Ben Taskar unexpectedly passed away in Seattle on Nov 17, 2013. He is leaving behind his wife Anat and his 2 year old daughter Aviv. Ben was an amazing scientist, father, husband, brother and a friend. He was brilliant and selfless. Always ready to help and share ideas. He will be dearly missed. This space is for those who loved Ben, cherished his friendship and were inspired by his work. 

Please share stories, photos, memories and adventures to celebrate his life by commenting on this post.
11/20/2013 05:16:51 am

I had the pleasure of working with Ben for several months this past year. Sitting with him in meetings, you quickly see his passion and intellect for research - even as I only begin to appreciate all the contributions he has made in this regard. Most importantly, I remember his kind and friendly nature that was readily apparent upon meeting him. He will be missed, and my thoughts go out to his family.

11/20/2013 06:09:24 am

To Anat and Ben's family,

We cannot imagine your pain at this darkest of times, but we hope that the memories of Ben will bring you strength and joy again.

I would like to share with you the memory of someone who had the fortune of meeting Ben many times at machine learning and AI events. There is perhaps no need to say how exceptionally bright Ben was or how much I learned from him - you know how gifted he was. But I want you to know that whether it was tasting whiskey in Edinburgh, cracking jokes at ICML, or getting into trouble for playing funny youtube videos at serious NIPS events, Ben was always a source of joy. I knew that by finding him at a conference, I would be happy. He was down-to-earth and warm. He exuded positiveness and always made me feel good.

Anjoli and I will never forget him taking our baby girl to the dance floor at Carlos and Emily's wedding, and her giggles while dancing with him. Ben was a happy beautiful man. It warms our hearts to see his light and his beauty in Aviv.

Our thoughts are with you.

Anima Anandkumar
11/20/2013 06:14:37 am

I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear the tragic news. I have had many nice technical discussions with Ben and he always had great insights to give. I will never forget Ben at Emily and Carlos's wedding. He was so full of life and we all danced the night away. I would have never imagined such an end to someone so energetic, but there is so much out there we cannot control. My best wishes are with the family.

Virginia Savova
11/20/2013 06:45:01 am

I wish I had something uplifting to say at a moment like this, but I have only sadness. Things like this should not happen. Ben was such a positive presence all around, so handsome, so smart, so laid-back and focused at the same time. He, more than anyone deserved to live. I am heartbroken for the family, with all the trials you have already been through, this one is too much to bear. I wish you strength, I wish you hope, I wish you to be surrounded by love. Amen.

Cara Hammer
11/20/2013 07:55:21 am

My husband is a PhD student in GRASP at UPenn. He did not know Ben personally, but knew of him. It is obvious, even to someone who never knew him, that Ben was a fantastic human being.

As a young married couple pursuing a life of academic science, our heart breaks for this beautiful family. The joy and strength in this family is palpable in every photo. This untimely loss is an absolute tragedy.

My husband and I send our deepest sympathies. Though we have never met, our thoughts are with Anat and Aviv every day. We mourn the unfair, rending loss you have suffered. We shed tears for your undeserved loss over dinner. We send hope that you receive the unending love, understanding, and support such a beautiful family deserves.

natalia shtein
11/20/2013 08:06:50 am

Ben was my son's high school friend. I remember him as a teenager, handsome, bright, kind and very hardworking even at 15.
My family followed his career and success as eager as we followed event's in our own son's life. I am heart breaking and hope his wife and parents will find strength, love and support they need now.

Eric Hsu
11/20/2013 08:08:19 am

Ben used to play tennis with me, and others, at Stanford. He was a gentle and peace-loving guy! Peace and love to his family.

Michael Kearns
11/20/2013 08:32:38 am

I'm devastated by this, as we all are. I write from Berkeley where I came to run a workshop, and all who knew and loved Ben from his time here are overwhelmed by sadness and loss.

During his time at Penn, Ben was a dear friend to many and a priceless colleague to all; we were sorry to lose him to UW, but excited for his next phase. That it has been cut short is just too cruel.

My fondest memory of Ben was a time we were both in Cambridge England and got together for a pint at the Green Dragon pub during May Bumps. We had an easy, free-ranging chat about many random topics. For such a driven, accomplished and deep researcher, Ben's free spirit and kind nature always surprised me, and reminded me that there are things more important than work.

We will all miss him dearly.

Vinay Ramaswamy
11/20/2013 09:03:44 am

I was shocked to read about this on Facebook yesterday. My thoughts are with Ben's family.

I got to learn Machine Learning through Ben's course at Penn. He was an amazing teacher and guide. The inspiration he provided still lives in me.

Delfina Falcao & Hector Guestrin
11/20/2013 09:56:06 am

Dear Anat, Aviv and Ben's family,

We deeply regret and share the sorrow for the loss of Ben, a kind, gentle, brilliant young person. Ben was one of the best friend of our son Carlos. We didn’t have much opportunity to meet Ben, but he was many times in our conversation with Carlos. We were with Ben only twice, the first in Stanford, and the second in Seattle at Carlos & Emily’s wedding, where we met you Anat and Aviv. What wonderful memories we have! Ben speech, the dancing, the sharing of the happy moments. We have great appreciation for Ben’s friendship with Carlos. We miss him.

Our love,

Delfina & Hector

Jeff Scott
11/20/2013 10:13:24 am

I don't really know what to say. I know Ben from his ML class and attending lectures at Penn. He was always more than willing to help out students even though it seemed he didn't have 5 minutes to spare given how busy he was. His talent and brilliance was eclipsed only by his humble nature and positive attitude. It is inspiring to see how many lives Ben has made such an impact on. My heart goes out to his friends and family.

Ruogu Hu
11/20/2013 12:30:34 pm

I was in Ben's machine learning lectures last year at Penn. And it was one of my most enjoyable class experiences. I cannot believe such an admirable and energetic scientist is gone. RIP. And I extend all of my best wishes for his family.

Geremy Heitz
11/20/2013 01:15:20 pm

I was just joining Daphne's group at Stanford when Ben was on his way out. At that time, he was my idol, at the end of the long PhD road that I was just beginning. I got to know him when he helped me co-advise an undergrad researcher, and I was awed by his deep understanding of the content, but more importantly, his positive, open, and friendly manner. He was a natural teacher and mentor who cared about us like an older brother. I remember sitting outside Thai Cafe with him for lunch and thinking that any student would be incredibly lucky to have him as an advisor (and through the years I've continually used him as a prime example of what a PhD advisor should be like).

Later I got to know him more personally, especially at Drago and Olya's wedding. While I have to admit that he always remained on a pedestal for me, I can also remember his fun side. I still remember seeing his sense of humor on display that week (and especially in the bridal party photo shoot).

Losing him is beyond unfair.

11/20/2013 01:44:13 pm

I am thankful to have been a close friend of Ben’s over the last dozen years. I only wish fate was less cruel and there were a few more dozens left in store. Ben was a wonderful person, one of the best I have ever met. He was kind and considerate, humble yet ambitious, a hard worker at one moment and the soul of the party at another. At some times, Ben would be thoughtful and melancholic. But most of the time he had a twinkle in the eye, he was silly, he was fun.

We became friends in grad school when we would spend quite a few all-nighters before conference deadlines. We were building “the best XXX ever”, respectively (fill in the XXX with our latest research topics). At 2am and 5am we would do pushups and pull-ups on the doorframe. A few times, Ben would come up with an idea one or two weeks before the next deadline and somehow implement it, write the paper, submit and get it accepted. Once he spent two all-nighters in a row like this, then drove home to San Francisco at 6am despite my protesting. He told me that he fell asleep at some red light, and apparently got woken by a cop 20 minutes later, still stopped in front of that red light.

Ben loved Leonard Cohen, and he loved Manu Chao. Ben liked artsy and deeply sentimental books like “Be my knife”, and he also liked the poetry of Billy Collins. He had a fancy camera and took a lot of artsy pictures that I never saw what he did with. We went on a hike in Jasper national park and ran into a momma Grizzly bear with 2 cubs. We were probably only thirty or forty yards away from the bear, which was alert and thinking what she wants to eat for breakfast. We were completely in the open so there was not much to do, except in a dignified and nonchalant way turn away from the bear and start walking away. Except Ben turned around, took out his camera and started taking pictures. Luckily the bear didn’t terribly mind. Later, I never saw what he did with those pictures.

Ben loved to travel. Some of my best memories with him are from trips in Alberta, King’s Canyon, Honduras, Bulgaria. In Honduras we were told it’s very dangerous to go out at night but we danced the night away with him and Anat at a local nightclub anyway. We met in Bulgaria just 3 months ago and climbed the tallest mountains there (not really that tall) for two full days and he was jumping from rock to rock like a mountain goat.

Ben loved to dance. He would light up the floor, dancing with Anat. In fact the first time I introduced my future wife Olya to them was at a salsa place and they were doing the salsa moves while I … was doing some moves. In the very pinnacle of the Gatsby NIPS parties, Ben was one of the chief participants in the crew-that-danced-on-the-mantelpiece-and-broke-both-mantelpiece-and-sofa. Gatsby parties never again matched the standards set that night.

Ben really loved his family. He told me that his wife Anat is a true soulmate for him. He was a loving father for Aviv and taking care of her was the most important thing for him. He was working on several projects for her. The first one would be a motorized chair. The most recent one would be “the best eye tracker ever”.

Ben was a wonderful person, one of the best I have ever met.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Uri Lerner
11/20/2013 03:24:24 pm

I find writing this note to be extremely hard. I am still in a state of shock and I cannot bring myself to think of my friendship with Ben in past tense. The thought that I will never see him or hear him laugh brings tears to my eyes.

I met Ben during our studies at Stanford and I was lucky enough to count him as a friend since then. Spending time with Ben, and then with Ben, Anat and my wife Vivian, was always fun. Ben was one of those rare people who makes everybody around him feel comfortable and in a good place. Always gracious, always with a sense of humor, and without a shred of pretentiousness. I will forever cherish fun memories from our joint hikes, parties, and just hanging out together.

I always knew that Ben was a superstar. (I will admit that I tried to lure him into Google a couple of times, but Ben always knew that he wanted to be in academia. His numerous scientific contributions have proven him right.) But more importantly, Ben was a dear friend, and I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Anat, Aviv, and the rest of the family, I keep thinking about you and my heart goes out to you.

Justin Huang
11/20/2013 03:33:04 pm

I took Ben's class last spring, and saw how brilliant he was. He cared a lot for his students and was a really nice guy in general. I looked up to him and I'll miss him.

Marcella Putman
11/20/2013 11:20:37 pm

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this very difficult time.

C.J. Taylor
11/20/2013 11:33:22 pm

It is impossible to capture in words the shock and sadness that we all felt at the news of Ben's untimely passing. Anyone who spent more than 5 minutes with Ben recognized that they were in the presence of a truly special person. His talent, his sense of humor, his ability to put people at ease were all remarkable. Somehow you always walked away from a conversation with Ben feeling better about yourself and about life in general. I can only imagine how much more keenly his loss is felt by those that were closest to him. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

Krikamol Muandet
11/21/2013 12:08:24 am

I first met Ben at NIPS2012, but I have known about him through his research. It was not difficult to tell how brilliant he was the first time we discussed. He will always be remembered.

Michal Sellin
11/21/2013 12:41:04 am

I still find it hard to accept this is real.
Ben was my classmate at Stanford. He was one of those amazing people.
Ben was one of the, probably the smartest person I met.
He was always kind and with a smile on his face, even when we were all tired after too many hours at Sweet Hall.
Ben was ambitious and dedicated and you just knew he was going places. He was supposed to be one of the people that will make discoveries that will change the world.

תהיה נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים

Jason Liu
11/21/2013 01:15:04 am

When I started at UPenn, he taught my first class. Straight away, I knew he was a brilliant scientist. What I learnt from him will stay with me forever. I give to him my deepest thanks.

Ambuj Tewari
11/21/2013 02:50:20 am

Like everyone else here, I find it hard to believe that Ben is not with us anymore. When Ben was a postdoc at UC Berkeley, I was a graduate student there. I remember Ben taking interest in some of my research. He encouraged me to give a talk about it in an informal setting. I was touched by his willingness to reach out to a grad student and provide encouragement. I am sure there are many others whose lives were touched by Ben's kindness. What a terrible loss!

Bharath Sankaran
11/21/2013 02:54:13 am

I had the privilege of knowing Ben professionally and personally during my time at UPenn. As a student in his machine learning class I had the opportunity to be mentored by him. He was an amazingly approachable guy with an open door policy. You could walk in to his office at any point to discuss course material or just generally chat about research. Outside work, he was a great competitor on the soccer pitch and I have a lot of fond memories from our evening pick-up games.
In all, Ben was a brilliant scientist, teacher and friend. He will truly be missed. My thoughts go out to his family.

Moti Morgenstern
11/21/2013 03:03:41 am

I sit here shedding tears as I read these comments. Ben Taskar was my brother in law, but more importantly, he was a dear friend. You didn’t have to be in machine learning to appreciate Ben’s intellect, and you didn’t have to be a childhood friend of Ben’s to feel like you knew him all your life. Ben was a person you couldn’t help but love. Ben was family from the moment I met him, even before we married into the same family. He was one the most intelligent, genuine, caring, and fun-loving people I have ever met.

Over the past 7 years, we danced at each other’s wedding and we celebrated countless birthdays, Passover Seders, Thanksgiving dinners and other holidays and events together. Everywhere Ben went, he brought good cheer. Not only was Ben the life of every family gathering, he was also the DJ and the photographer (and often the caterer, too). Ben gave selflessly of his time and energy and always exuded warmth and optimism, even under the most adverse circumstances.

Ben was a lover of life, and although his life was cruelly cut short, he lived a rich and beautiful life. Ben was - and always will be - an inspiration to me. He will forever live in my heart and in the hearts of so many others.

May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

ת נ צ ב ה

Tanya Kisler
11/21/2013 03:23:52 am

The world became a little dimmer. Ben was one of the people that carried that light with him. I knew him and Anat briefly and what seems like a long time ago. The memory that resurfaced today is of a bright, enlightened, full of life man, kind, fundamentally good and always smiling. I hope this kindness and light stays with Anat, Aviv and the rest of the family... So sorry for your loss. Love and deepest condolences to the friends and family.

Ben Blum
11/21/2013 03:52:43 am

I find it very hard to accept that Ben is gone. My deepest sympathies to Anat and everyone else affected by this tragedy. I first met Ben at Stanford when I was an undergraduate just getting into research. He, Drago, Carlos, Christian, and the others in Daphne's group were welcoming and inspirational, so smart but always ready to hear out a half-baked undergraduate idea. For all his brilliance, Ben had such an easygoing personality that it was impossible to feel ill at ease with him. I remember after the more ridiculous things I'd say there'd be a half second pause before his face dissolved into a grin. My best memories of Ben involve eating burritos with him and Anat in the Mission, seeing the really impressive photographs he finally showed me under extreme duress, hanging out with him in hot tubs and lift lines at NIPS. I have to admit to playing enabler at that notorious mantle-breaking party. Perhaps my favorite memory of Ben is of him snaring his employer around the neck with a feather boa--or was it a leather belt?--for a twirl or two around the dance floor as everyone looked on in shock at two of the most brilliant people they knew fooling around like boys. He was one of my heroes, as much for his caring nature and spirit of fun as for his work. He will be missed.

Vivian Lerner
11/21/2013 04:35:42 am

Dear Family,

I met Ben almost 9 years ago, and I loved chatting with him and laughing together since then. I found Ben to be a very special person. He was brilliant with out-there groundbreaking thoughts, as well as being one of the most approachable and affable persons I have met. Although Ben came from "Uri's side of the family", he immediately became dear to me too. Together with Ben and Anat, Uri and I have had so many wonderful times. We were geographically apart the last few years, but always looked forward to any opportunity to connect and be together. I will miss him dearly.

Anat, Aviv, and the whole family - I send you much, much love.

Lior Pachter
11/21/2013 06:22:26 am

I last saw Ben at about five o'clock in the afternoon on July 11th.

Anat and I had not seen each other in a few years, so we met at the UAI conference in Bellevue, and then the two of us took a taxi over to meet Ben and Aviv at home. It was a beautiful Seattle summer afternoon, so we all went out for a long stroll. Even though Anat had been my Ph.D. student and I'd met Ben many times while she (and for a while also Ben) were at Berkeley, I have to admit that I never got to know him very well. Between Ph.Ds, postdocs and jobs, we'd all been busy. But that changed during our walk that magical afternoon. First, Aviv sang a song that warmed our hearts, and then as we talked about the past, present and future, I felt a comfort that one only feels around true friends. Ben's love for Aviv, his warm heart, his smile, and his grace, captured me completely. When I returned home that night I told my wife that we had to make plans to visit Aviv, Ben and Anat as soon as possible.

As we were walking back to the house, Ben pulled out his cell phone to call a taxi and I went to get my luggage. I remember putting my arm around his shoulder before I said goodbye. It was as if we had been best friends our whole life. He was an extraordinary person, and I already miss him terribly. Anat and Aviv, I am deeply sorry for your loss- it hurts so much. All my love to you.

Yalda, Chris, Darius and Marjan
11/21/2013 06:42:32 am

To Anat, Aviv, Ben's parents and sister, and all of his family and friends, our deepest condolences. We are so sorry about Ben's passing. All our love to you.

Lianxin He
11/21/2013 07:15:16 am

Ben was my thesis advisor at Penn and he always strikes me as an extremely bright innovator and caring mentor. My heart goes deeply to Ben's friends and family; his superb work and cheerful attitude will keep shining on us forever.

Joe Fantuzzi
11/21/2013 10:06:42 am

I met Ben at Stanford in 1998 - full of youth, intellect and spirit. He worked in our startup netDialog as a brilliant young engineer, a family member technical co-founder Ilya Beyer and student of advisor Andreas Paepcke. He was one of the best - a passionate doer and a friend to all.

Ben, I can only recall your greatness. To your family, I offer my utmost empathy and love. Be at peace.

Tony Ryan
11/21/2013 02:15:30 pm

"Tony, I'm going to be back in L.A. this weekend - when do you work?"
"I'm at the bar all weekend, what's up?"
"We're coming by!"
"We? Is this THE guy?"

So, I looked forward to seeing Anat and meeting Ben for the first time. I also looked forward to getting the both of them quite inebriated since they hadn't been going out for that long and - as any good bartender would - I wanted to get all the good family stories and embarrassing anecdotes from both of them out on the table. So they come in and sit at a table in the restaurant and avoid the bar altogether. Anat doesn't even say hello until they've already ordered drinks and dinner. I think she knew I was up to something (which she was right). So I came over to the table and she introduced me to Ben.

It's not very often you remember meeting someone and the conversation you had 15 years after the fact, but Ben was an amazing person. Immediately, we started talking about how they met and then about how Ben and I both grew up in San Francisco. In fact, Ben and I talked for so long I think Anat started to feel left out! Ben had a remarkable ability to make others feel at ease and welcome which I will truly miss. More importantly, he also had an ability to make others happy which I especially saw in the faces of his wife and daughter when they were with him.

I am lucky to have many fond memories of Ben and I am grateful for the opportunities I had to get to know him over time. I cannot comprehend the loss that Anat, Aviv and both the Taskar and Caspi families have experienced. You are all constantly in my thoughts and in my heart. May Ben rest in peace.

Tony Ryan

11/22/2013 12:39:01 am

Ben was a truly exceptional scientist and a warm and fun friend, but as I remember him in grief, what stands out maybe even more was his great care for others, both those close to him and those who would just learn from his work. Three brief examples:

When Ben was considering leaving Penn, what we talked about was not the usual startup packages and research programs of academic hiring, but what would be the best place for Aviv's continued care and for Anat's career.

When I recruited Ben to Penn, I knew he would make an immediate impression on colleagues and students. What I did not plan for is that he would quickly become a second de facto advisor, co-advisor, and eventually full advisor when I left for Google, for many of my students. His care for them, his constant work with them and on their behalf, his generosity with ideas, were truly central to their developing careers. We owe Ben more than we can describe.

Ben was exceptionally successful in publishing papers. But was might be less known is how much care he put into improving a paper after it was accepted. A more cynical researcher might keep new ideas for the next paper, but Ben made sure that if we could run a more informative experiment, or develop an improved argument, it would be added to the already accepted paper, so that it would be the most useful to others.

There are many more stories like these, that I will try to collect with more time. They all speak of a generosity, warmth, and depth of understanding beyond measure.

Nelly Gancheva
11/22/2013 01:23:51 am

I still can't believe that this is real and that Ben is gone...

I was introduced to Ben by my husband (Kuzman Ganchev) who was Ben's student. At the beginning, based on Kuzman's stories, I thought that Kuzman and Ben were co-students as Kuzman always described him as a close friend, who was always with him both for party and work. I remember that Kuzman said that Ben is the last one to go to bed when there is paper submission. He was perfectionist. Ben changed my whole perception of what an advisor can be. Before that I didn't realize that an advisor can be that dedicated to his friendships with students and to their work together.

When I met Ben in person, I was so impressed how down-to-earth, friendly and charismatic he was. I don't remember Ben without a smile, without telling a joke, without saying a positive story.

Kuzman and I visited him, Anat and Aviv less than a month ago and we had such a wonderful time with them. We had delicious dinner that Ben and Anat had prepared, had some wine, followed by tea and chocolate. Ben and Kuzman were telling very amusing jokes and all of us we were laughing and having a lot of fun. We were watching Aviv, playing a tablet game with Ben's and Aviv's help. After Aviv went to bed, we talked about accessibility software and devices, genetics, NLP. We had such a wonderful time... Kuzman and I were so impressed how well Ben and Anat were handling everything, how positive they were and how they were building their bright future. That was just less than a month ago...I can't believe it...I feel such a deep sorrow...
Ben was one of the most amazing and strongest people I know. He was so positive and energetic... I feel pain when I write "was"...

Ben is not physically with us anymore, but he'll aways live is our hearts and memories!

Irina Rish
11/22/2013 02:09:19 am

It is still very hard for me to accept that Ben is not with us anymore. I remember his smile, his laugh, his jokes, our conversations about life, our discussions about work, his warm, caring and sincere attitude towards everyone and everything. Ben was such a strong source of positive energy that just being in his presence was making people happy. So young and so brilliant – I still remember his best paper award at NIPS 2003, the paper which basically created a new machine-learning field while Ben was still in graduate school – and yet so humble. So passionate about his work and his family. The last two years, after Aviv’s diagnosis, were incredibly tough, and yet I never heard him complain. Ben and Anat were fighting against the odds to keep Aviv as healthy and as happy as they could, to live in the present and to be happy today. I admire their strength, and thinking of Ben and Anat helps me go through tough times that life sometimes unexpectedly presents to all of us. And memories of those past conferences, those Gatsby parties with broken mantelpieces and sofas (well, I have to admit actually standing on that poor sofa, too), crazy dancing with former advisor and body surfing through the NIPS crowd – all these silly things that Ben was absolutely the best at - make me smile and, for a moment, let go of pain and deep sadness, as if Ben is still with us, but just won’t be coming to the NIPS this year…

My heart goes to Anat and Ben’s family. Let the memories of Ben help you heal this wound…

Mark T
11/22/2013 03:00:33 am

I met ben at my first "internet startup", NetDialog. His friendly manner invited conversation on any topic, and it was not long before you became aware of just how brilliant he was. I have thought of him often in the convening years - and will always remember him as a comrade in the trenches in the early days of the internet boom who went on to share his intellect and inspire others.

Amir Roth
11/22/2013 03:05:04 am

Anat and Aviv, thank you for sharing these pictures. I am so glad that you had that time with Ben and that he had it with the two of you. And so sad that it all ended so terribly and so soon. We have all lost a brilliant mind, a great colleague, a wonderful friend. And yet it is your loss of Ben's love that makes this so incomprehensibly unbearable.

I hope that you find the strength to overcome this incredible blow. In yourselves. In each other. In your family. In your friends. In Ben's memory. Wherever you can. And that in time you will honor his memory by living the full and happy lives that he wished for you and that he so clearly lived himself.

Peter Kind
11/22/2013 05:43:05 am

It was my great honor and privilege to get to know Ben in six weeks of intense briefings, discussion, research and travel over two years with the Computer Science Study Group. Quiet in nature but with an inquiring mind, passion in research and eagerness to share insights, he was admired by and a friend to all. Ben combined deep thinking and common sense in a most gentlemanly way. My sympathy and prayers are with Anat and Aviv.
Peter Kind, Lieutenant General (Retired), U.S. Army

B. Yan
11/22/2013 08:25:29 am

Ben was on my dissertation committee. I am always grateful that he was willing to spare time just to help me. He was really kind. The discussion with him was a great help to my research. Without his help, I could have been very lost. I also enjoyed his Machine Learning class.

Last time I talked to Ben was in June 2013. He Skyped in my defense. I feel very sad that I will not be able to talk to him and see his smile again. By reading the posts here, I get to know more about him. And the pictures are very touching. I am inspired by his positive attitude and the strength inside his lovely family. Thanks for sharing the memories and the pictures.

I will always remember his kindness and his inspiring smile. Best wishes to the family.

K. Dvijotham
11/22/2013 11:28:24 am

I was fortunate to get know Ben during his limited time at UW - I TA-ed for the only class he taught here. I will always remember his warmth and his ability to make students feel comfortable in his presence. Even though our interactions were limited, it was clear to me that he was a brilliant researcher and a caring mentor to his students.

My prayers and thoughts are with his family. I am sure he will be remembered fondly by everyone who had the good fortune to meet him.

11/22/2013 12:32:40 pm

I still remember, monday morning, around 9am, when I opened my inbox. I saw this email, which I could hardly believe. I read and reread it couple of times, if it was real. It is really hard to believe that Ben is no more.

Ben, as everyone pointed out, was a tremendous source of inspiration for me. I only had some brief interaction with him, but it struck me hard, how nice and gentle a person he was. Indeed, I remember him coming to my qualifying examination, and appreciating our work. It was really sad that I gave my generals examination this tuesday (the day after Ben passed away), and I could not help but remember him throughout my examination.

I can only imagine the loss and sadness of Anat and the Taskar family. My deepest and sincerest prayers are with you. Ben, you will always be remembered fondly by all of us!

Julia Kirshher
11/23/2013 01:42:17 am

It is with a heavy heart that I finally bring myself to write this. I met Ben on the Muni bus 28 on his first day going to the Hebrew Academy. We spent the next few years as classmates and close friends. I remember dancing with him at my 16th birthday party, when he was still shy about dancing and had to be dragged out onto the dance floor; oh, how things changed since then! Over a year younger than his classmates, Ben was easily the smartest, and the most humble in our class. Even as a goofy teenager, he was always willing to help and give his time. Ben will be greatly missed by all who knew him. Пусть земля тебе будет пухом.

Yan Nagler
11/23/2013 02:28:35 am

Здесь слова теряют смысл: всех их вместе - недостаточно, чтоб сказать то что чувствуешь.
Передо мной фотография двадцатипятилетней давности. На ней мы - дети на семейном торжестве. Смеемся: ведь впереди - жизнь!..
Говорят, Он призывает к себе лучших. Звучит не убедительно, звучит несправедливо - Веня еще так много мог дать людям...


יהי זכרו ברוך.

Ян Наглер

Paul Vernaza
11/23/2013 04:47:36 am

I was lucky to have the privilege of working with Ben for a short time as a PhD student as well as taking a few of his classes. It can be intimidating as a grad student to be surrounded by intellectual giants, and I think that is why I'll always remember how humble and approachable he was. He was patient and generous with his time to an extent that never ceased to amaze me, especially given the pressures of the job. Although our collaboration was brief, it had an indelible impact on my career, for which I am extremely grateful. In the research world, his work was inspired and novel to a degree that is uncommon, and for that I have always thought myself one of his biggest fans.

My most heartfelt condolences go out to Ben's family and all those who were close to him.

Daniel Rudoy
11/23/2013 05:46:14 am

It is a strange feeling to be so affected by the death of someone I knew only from meeting during a recent wedding weekend. But there are rare instances in which you meet a person for the first time and feel that you've known them for a long time ... because that rare person is able to form immediate and deep connections with those around him. That rare person who makes you feel at home and who makes you feel like family, even though your paths have not previously crossed. Ben was that rare person. Indeed, as my undergraduate advisor used to say, they "broke the mold" when they made Ben Taskar.

I cannot imagine the pain those that were much closer to Ben than I must feel. Their world was shattered this week.

Although nothing can ever replace what was lost, Ben's light shined so brightly that it continues to illuminate us now and will for years to come.

May G-d grace his rest.

Yujia Li
11/23/2013 07:34:40 am

Ben was the session chair for my talk at CVPR this year, and I had the fortune to meet with him when he visited Toronto a month ago. Though our talk was short, he gave me many helpful insights and advices, and I can feel that he is really warm-hearted. A couple of years ago, I started to work in this field by reading one of his papers. Now our field really lost a thinker and pioneer. My prayers with Ben and his family.

Ben Sapp
11/23/2013 08:08:24 am

I had the honor and privilege of being Ben’s first start-to-finish Ph.D. student. I think back fondly now to when I first visited Penn and met him. I was awestruck from the start. He disarmed me with his charm at our first meeting, deftly discussing the finer points of living in West Philly versus Center City. Soon into my first semester I realized that not only was he incredibly cool and nice, but he was also one of the smartest people I have ever met.

My preconceived notion of a formal advisor-advisee relationship was shattered as I grew during my Ph.D career with Ben. He was a mentor, a valuable critic, a father figure, and a friend. We cracked jokes. We swore at the gods of computer vision. We crushed the other team in pickup soccer. He helped me through a tough breakup. He gave me his utmost support in finding a job after school, even though he always wanted me and and all his other students to stay in academia forever.

Ben left an indelible mark on who I am as a person. From him I developed a sense of taste: to determine when a research approach is “ugly” or “the right way to do things”. I developed rigor: learning that you can never put in enough time developing the best solution, polishing a talk, or thinking up a clever paper title. Finally (and I’m still working on this one), he left me with a sense of unerring, possibly foolhardy, optimism: that things will always work out in research and in life. I think this core tenet is what made him such an engaging person and successful researcher. It made every conversation I had with him inspiring. I will truly miss not being able to turn for him for advice.

My thoughts go out to Anat, Aviv and the rest of the Taskar family, who lost such a great man.

Umar Syed
11/23/2013 09:59:12 am

We went to Ben's beautiful memorial service yesterday. I'm thankful that I had a chance to say goodbye.

Ben was unlike anyone else I've ever worked with. I tell people all the time: I never met anyone else who had such a complete mastery of both the theoretical and practical aspects of machine learning. I was routinely astonished by his talent. It's a testament to his ability that even though his dissertation was so influential and made him famous, as a young professor he often worked on projects that had nothing to do with what he worked on as a grad student. Hardly anyone else could have pulled that off.

Even though he was a young, he took his responsibility as a mentor very seriously. When I joined his group as a postdoc, I half-expected that he would just ask me to help implement his already existing research program. But Ben never operated that way. He encouraged me to generate my own ideas, and was keen that I feel a sense of ownership of the projects we worked on together.

My fondest personal memories of Ben are from our research group's retreat in the Poconos. I learned that Ben was a great cook. He was also a terrible liar -- we played a game of Mafia and Ben was voted out almost immediately. He was too honest to fool anyone.

When Ben told me about Aviv's medical condition, I told him that one of the beliefs in the Islamic tradition is that God does not place a burden on any soul greater than it can bear. He said a similar belief exists in Judaism. I know that Ben's many friends and colleagues are ready to help his family with their burden.

Xiaoying Lin
11/23/2013 01:52:09 pm

I only met Ben once, in a parking lot, when he came over to pick up Anat. He impressed me as a very nice and polite person. The scene Ben was carefully adjusting Aviv's car seat is flashing back, and I could tell he loved his daughter dearly.

Really sorry for the loss. My thoughts and prayers go out to Anat, Aviv and the rest of Ben's family.

Yu Luo
11/23/2013 06:05:08 pm

I am so sad and shocked. Ben was my advisor at Penn. I took his machine learning class and worked as his Research Assistant at Penn. Ben has helped me a lot. He is so intelligent and helpful. Many thanks to him. He will always stay in my memory. My thoughts go out to his family.

Max Shtein
11/23/2013 11:47:38 pm

Ben and I had been friends since... 14, 15 years of age. Went to school together. Played chess and sneaked cognac from our parents cabinets and philosophized. Remember taking the #28 bus to school and back together; the cross-streets were in reverse alphabetical order on the way to school, so we can start from the beginning when we got there, as it were. It was a nice daily cycle. Remember Ben telling me about his ideas for college essays, one being about inventing an AI computer that would read and rank college essays. Remember being at Alina's wedding, where I'd danced with a girl for the first time. It might have been around that time when Ben introduced to me flat-front pants; I'd not bought pleated-front pants since then. I've come to believe that little things like that ... well, they can make a big difference in a person's life at a certain age.

I was a good way through 9th grade, when my family moved south of the bay; Ben helped us pack the truck. Even then he worked quickly and diligently. After the move we kept in touch. Once he visited me in San Jose; we went on a bike ride – from about 9 am until about 9 pm, taking our rickety thin-tired clunkers over smooth and rough roads alike further and further into the brown hills. We didn't give much thought to how long it might take us to get back. I can't remember how many flats we had then, but do remember how we careened down twists, sometimes crossing the yellow line to cut the turn, supremely confident that there's no oncoming traffic. Riding back home, eventually, finally, on deflated tires we rolled up the driveway, crawled on all fours across the front door of our house and collapsed on the living room floor. My parents covered us with blankets and we slept right there on the living room floor until the next day.

I remember how Ben came into Ann Arbor for an AI conference at the University of Michigan. He stayed in my small 1 bedroom apartment, along with 2 other friends who were in town for bowling camp. The next time I saw him was some years hence, when my wife, our first kid and I were at Ben and Anat's wedding. What a beautiful couple, what a beautiful family, what a beautiful evening that was. I somehow remember the light being glorious.

And maybe it was after that, that Ben and Anat ended up in PA, and Anat ended up working with a friend of mine from grad school – wow, coincidence... And then... And then, some years later, my phone was buzzing. I was teaching a class, so the phone in my pocket kept buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing... Oh, dear God.

A fellow photographer Ben might have known about, Kirk Tuck, said recently: "The real challenge is to peel back the layers of distraction and fear we create that keep us from doing what we love. Life is too short for everything else." I will remember Ben for many things, but most of all, I will remember him for helping me peel back these layers of distraction and fear.

Peace, love,
- Max, Roni, and the rest of our family.

Ankur Parikh
11/24/2013 05:25:47 pm

I am very saddened by the news. Professor Taskar was very willing to serve as my external thesis committee member even though I had never met him before. He was very helpful, and gave me key suggestions in helping the structure and scope of my thesis.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Anna Goldenberg
11/25/2013 04:58:25 am

A true and dear friend is gone.
To help with pain the mind
Brings memories of fun
That he left all behind

At UAI 2003
(I was new student then)
I meant to work on PRMs
And was referred to Ben

I knew about B. Taskar
From many papers written
He spoke Russian and was fun
And quickly I was smitten

His talents went beyond research
The parties were a riot
He helped me climb the mantelpiece
Though height was terrifying

We all became adults one day
Our lives became too busy
But being true and real friend,
He found time to visit

The last time in Toronto
Distinguished Lecturer
He found time to win the heart
Of my shy baby daughter

We talked some shop
And I was thrilled
To finally discover
That we’ve converged on a research
We both planned to cover

His life was inspiration
Though painfully brief
My warm and happy memories
Forever filled with grief

Ella and Konstantin Katsovich
11/25/2013 05:20:32 am

Dear Tsilya, Marik. Deepest condolences to you and all your family. Our hearts go out to you. Ella, Kostya.

Rohan Shah
11/26/2013 05:15:38 am

"Grace" -- is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of Ben Taskar.

I started working with Ben early in 2012 during my masters at UPenn. Whether we were discussing ideas, or having our weekly "BUGS" reading group, or actually, even in every single e-mail we exchanged... the interaction would reverberate with sheer subtlety and Grace.

Not once have I entered his office without butterflies in my stomach, just out of the expectation that I was about to go in for a whole new learning experience that would go beyond machine learning and robotics. The joy in doing things the right way, usually the hard way, and then coming out with an unquestionable victory, is something I could not have learnt better from any other person.

As time passed, I felt myself imbibing more of those little qualities I saw in him, and I will carry them with me for the rest of my life. Apart from my parents, I never really looked up to anyone else as a role-model. Ben changed that. I will always look up to the person he was, and thank my stars profoundly that I was fortunate enough to have known him.

My prayers go out to Anat, Aviv, and the rest of his family.

Arman Darini
11/27/2013 08:19:57 pm

Ben, dear friend, I will miss you.

I remember many times that we spent together: pulling all nighters before conference submissions at Stanford where our offices were next to each other. Dancing salsa and drinking Tequila at IJCAI in Acapulco, then desperately trying to keep our eyes open the next morning at presentations. Skiing at NIPS workshops in Alberta. Visiting you and Anat for a delicious dinner in Berkeley that you cooked together. I loved how light and non-serious you could be, always ready with a smile and laughter. Yet reliable and solid at the same time.

When I couldn't stand Stanford anymore and left right after my oral defense, I entrusted to you the final crucial step of printing out and submitting my dissertation. You stored all my possessions at your family's home and even my car during the months that I was gone.

I know this is not the end, but the beginning of the next stage for you. We will miss you. May your journey unfold in ways that are beautiful for you. A day will come when we will join you. See you then, dear friend.


Omar Barlow
11/29/2013 12:22:08 am

I just read about Mr. Taskar on this morning. First, I am writing to send my sincere condolences. It was clear that he had a touch of brilliance that many benefited from. Lastly, he was one of my contemporaries, only 36 years old. I pray the Lord's blessing upon his wife and daughter and all family members. May His face shine upon them and be gracious to them. Shalom.

Mike & Anna Vaynberg
11/29/2013 09:30:20 am

Our hearts aches for you. We are so sorry for your loss.
Love, Mike & Anna

11/30/2013 06:00:21 am

Ben was the best uncle to me. He was smart, funny, helpful and optimistic. He helped me to look on the bright side of things and helped me come to my senses when I needed to. He was always there for Aviv and an amazing role model. I envy his kindness, smarts and humor. He will be loved and surely not forgotten.

Pieter Abbeel
11/30/2013 08:47:34 am

When I started my research in Daphne Koller's group as a masters student in computer science at Stanford, Ben (then one of Daphne's PhD students) took me under his wings. He was an amazing mentor, always there for me, always excited to discuss, whether it was new research ideas, debugging / architecting some code, paper / presentation structuring, or yet something else.

I published my first two papers with Ben --- I distinctly remember being totally stunned by what he could make happen even in just one week before a paper deadline.

Then, later, when I continued on to the PhD program, and started working on projects a bit further removed from Ben's personal line of work, he continued to frequently stop by my office and invariably be super-excited to discuss whatever I was working on at the time. This really made a difference for me, especially as at the time I was Andrew's first PhD student, so I had no other students in my own group to chat with.

Ben distinctly shaped my early research years, and I am really thankful to have been blessed with his attention.

Ben quickly became a great friend. Someone who'd always bring excitement, a positive attitude, and a warmth that made everyone feel welcome. I am thankful for our many discussions, our exploration of cities where we went to conferences together, our times at Stanford, and so many other occasions.

It's still hard to believe this really happened, I will continue to miss you Ben.

12/2/2013 12:35:47 pm

We just had our Memorial service for Ben at Penn today. Fifteen days after his passing, the auditorium was completely filled without any standing room, packed with his friends, students and colleagues in Philadelphia. The outpouring of grief was so great--I was especially moved by the comments from Anat and Ben's father. No parents should have to bury their children, and Ben has left behind both parents along with Anat and Aviv. It was clear that Ben's energy and joy has touched so many people, all across the country and around the world. The sense of loss is so unfathomable, and our mourning still so great.

Anna&Sasha&Avital Levinzon
12/2/2013 05:29:58 pm

Dear Taskar family!We are so sad and heartbroken about your horrible loss...We love and admire VENECHKA so much! is certainly impossible to speak about him in past sentence ... And no words can help ease this enormous pain and loss, we know...VENECHKA is so much fun and joy and outstanding generousity - understandandeble in such a brilliant person, in a genius like him...
We love you very much and being with you in our thoughs and in our hearts and minds and souls- mourning and praying and begging God to strengthen you during this enormous suffer !...

Jody Jefferson
12/3/2013 12:40:24 am

I cannot write about the accomplishments of Ben’s working life but I read them with interest and appreciation for what he has contributed. I also read them and appreciate the window into his talents and his sharing of himself and his incredible knowledge to others.

What I can write about Ben (who I only knew briefly while swimming with our daughters at Seattle Children’s Hospital) is that I have not seen a more loving, compassionate father who I will painfully miss spending time with and getting to know better. I thoroughly enjoyed our times together with Aviv, Ben, Anat and my family enjoying a swim to relax and spend time together with our children. When I spent time with Ben you just knew you were in the presence of someone special. His kindness and care of Aviv and for that matter other children with special needs was so immediately apparent. Rest in peace Ben. We will all see you on the other side.

Ofir Pele
12/5/2013 11:31:32 pm

Ben: Hey Ofir, Ma Nish-ma (Hebrew slang for how things are going) ?
Me: What ?
Ben: Ma Nish-ma ?
Me: Oh, I wasn't expecting Hebrew :)

Ben: Hey Ofir, did you have a coffee already ?
Me: Yes, but I'll be happy to have another one.
Ben: Well, the correct answer should be: "I still didn't have one with you"

Ben: What ?! That's crazy ! (A big smile on is face)

Ben was my postdoc advisor. A postdoc that I finished just two months ago. I still didn't finish all our planned work together. I still find it hard to believe that he's gone. Ben was doing all that he can and then some more to help others. He was always doing his best to make you feel comfortable and usually make someone smile. Whether if it is saying a Hebrew slang or just telling a joke.

As Drago wrote, Ben was always doing "the best XXX ever". Or in Ben's words (approximately due to my memory): "It is always better to be the source of the stream than to drink from it". Amazingly, Ben was the source of many streams.
In addition to doing the best XXX ever, Ben was also the best XXX ever, to some an advisor to others a teacher and I think that above all a husband and a father. Ben had almost always a small smile on his face. But when he talked about Anat or Aviv or when he showed me a video of Aviv playing and giggling with a red ball his face really shone with happiness and love.

לענת ואביב והמשפחה, איתכם באבלכם

יהי זיכרו ברוך

12/10/2013 12:24:26 pm

Ben was always the center of our family gatherings, and it brought everyone great joy to see him and talk to him. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who cared more for his family than Ben. I remember since I started high school, I had been looking up to him as a role model. I was amazed by everything he accomplished, not just professionally but mostly by the kind of person he was, and that has always been a motivator for me. I truly feel anyone who was lucky enough to know or meet Ben became a better person as a result. Ben not only had all these amazing qualities - kind, funny, adventurous, determined, and easy going - but he instilled them in you and showed you how effortless it can be. I am proud to say Ben was my cousin, and his memory and spirit will never be forgotten.

Message from Anat
12/10/2013 04:32:16 pm

Anat & Aviv would like to thank everyone for all the amazing gestures of comfort Ben's friends and family have offered. People's kind expression of sympathy and impressive generosity were and are still deeply appreciated.

To keep up with Aviv, please friend her on Facebook, "Aviv TforTomorrow"

A taping of the memorial event that took place at Penn last week is now available at the following address:

Many thanks for your continued support at this most difficult of times.

2/20/2014 10:43:38 pm

Prof. Taskar never knew me. I applied to UPenn (for Fall 2013) and had hoped to do my PhD under his supervision.

Just a few days ago, when I searched his name on Google, I saw this website and the news was terrible to bear. Although I had never met him, and he me, I don't know why but I just feel terribly sorry for his family. Last year my wife and I too had a pretty traumatic incident ourselves. For that reason, I somehow feel very close to his family. I sincerely pray that you are able to get over this and live a happy life.

3/30/2014 01:05:20 am

Right after Ben passed away, it was very hard for me to write about him. The pain was too fresh, and I kept putting off writing this note, hoping it would become easier. Ben was an awesome person. Anyone who knows even a little bit about his work knows how brilliant he was, how much he stood out even among the best scholars. What makes it so hard for me to fathom that he is no longer with us, is that he was such an amazing person. He seemed to always know the right thing to do in any situation, and more than once he has helped me through personal problems where I felt completely helpless. He never wanted to give up, and he didn't let me give up either always knowing how to improve the situation. One time, when I had committed a pretty serious social/professional mistake (resulting in a friend being very upset, and my feeling pretty powerless to make it right), he called me from hundreds of miles away, and calmed me down and told me what to do. Instead of sulking in my room, I did what he suggested and took at least one small step towards making it better. I remember him saying the words "it isn't too late to fix it." That sentiment, the optimistic view that you're never helpless, has stayed with me and sometimes when I find myself at a loss, I think "what would Ben do" and I know the answer isn't to give up or to hope the problem goes away.

2/23/2015 04:49:11 pm

Incredible! This can be the most helpful weblogs we have actually run into about the subject. Fundamentally fantastic details! I am additionally a specialist in this topic so I can realize your own hard work.

Rob Baesman
10/19/2020 08:25:16 pm

I don't know exactly why I'm writing this now -- so many years later. News of Ben's passing hit me hard at the time -- I knew both Ben and Anat from Stanford days and found the whole situation heartbreaking. Now out of the blue, found myself thinking of him in this year of 2020 as we approach the 7th anniversary of his passing.

I just want to share a memory, an impression really...

Ben and I were not "close" back in university, but I had the pleasure of working with him as my project-mate in what was then the infamous CS240a (Operating Systems) under Mendel Rosenblum. It was known for being one of the final "weeder" courses of the CS major -- one that would break less ready souls through sheer progressive weight of the project work, usually in the Jr. year. Ben, Toli Kuznets and I were in a project team where we had to over the course of the quarter, write an operating system from the ground up, (and if you messed up one module, the errors introduced by that lower level module would destroy you in later stages).

I have a hard time pinning down any one memory from that time, but I retain a general impression of late nights (sometimes all nighters) in Sweet Hall -- the big Sun Workstation computer lab we all used at the time -- smell of old carpet, pizza boxes, and stale urine from the men's room. Ben was always right there: always sharp, always ready to keep going, always ready to get things done, but still emerge with a smile on his face. Our OS worked, (a given with Ben I suppose), but looking back, in some twisted way, we had fun doing it.

I wish we'd stayed in touch after college Ben, but either way, I miss your presence on this planet brother.

Shalom to you Anat and Aviv. Thinking of you both as well.


Leave a Reply.