Ben Taskar, a national expert in machine learning who joined the faculty of the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering Department last year, died Sunday night of an apparent heart attack. He was 36.
Taskar was one of several computer-science superstars hired by the UW last summer. He received his bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. from Stanford University, and worked for six years as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the UW staff. He taught his first class at the UW in spring of this year.
In a post on the Computer Science and Engineering Department’s website, colleagues described Taskar as one of his generation’s leading computer scientists.
“He made many significant research contributions in areas spanning machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision,” colleagues wrote. “We are 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’s expertise was in computational linguistics, or speech recognition, the technology used in cellphones and computers that allows people to talk to their devices and be understood. And he also worked with computer vision — teaching a computer to recognize an image, such as a face.
In an interview last year, Taskar said he joined the UW faculty in part because of its reputation for collaboration across different departments and disciplines.
Taskar is survived by his wife, Anat Caspi, and daughter Aviv Taskar.