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Ben Taskar

Ben Taskar, a rising star in the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, passed away on Sunday after an unexpected and sudden illness. He was 36.

The passing of Taskar, an expert in machine learning, computational linguistics and computer vision who arrived at the UW earlier this year, left colleagues and friends grief-stricken.

“Ben was an outstanding computer scientist – one of the very best of his generation,” said Hank Levy, the department chairman. “He made many significant research contributions in areas spanning machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision.   Our entire department is devastated by his loss.  Even in a short time at UW, Ben’s brilliance and his positive and gentle nature made him admired and adored by everyone who knew him.”

Taskar was one of a group of recent young recruits to the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department, helping to put the program in the national spotlight. He arrived earlier this Spring at the UW, joining as a Boeing Associate Professor and working alongside other notable recruits such as professors Jeff Heer and Carlos Guestrin. Taskar, who earned a bachelor’s and doctoral degree from Stanford University, previously served as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Computer and Information Science Department.

He was awarded the Sloan Research Fellowship, the NSF CAREER Award and was selected for the Young Investigator Program by the Office of Naval Research and the DARPA Computer Science Study Group.

Matt McIlwain, a venture capitalist at Madrona Venture Group, said he was terribly saddened to hear of Taskar’s death.

“It is just a shock to the whole system,” said McIlwain, who had come to know the computer scientist in recent months. “Ben was just a marvelous, marvelous guy.”

The cause of death was not known, though it is believed to be connected to a heart attack.

Taskar is survived by his wife, Anat Caspi, and daughter, Aviv Taskar.  Services will be held in San Francisco. A fund will be set up in Taskar’s name in the near future, and you can contact the UW Computer Science & Engineering department for more details.

“When a 30-something person dies unexpectedly, leaving behind a spouse and a young child, it scarcely matters that he or she was one of the generation’s leading computer scientists,” said Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. “Ben was that, though, a leading figure in machine learning who made a tremendous impact on our program in his short time here.”

Correction: We’ve corrected the age of Taskar. He was born in March of 1977.

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