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Ben Taskar, a former Engineering professor at Penn, died unexpectedly on Nov. 17 at the age of 36 of an apparent heart attack.

Taskar, who moved to Philadelphia in 2007 to become a Penn professor in Computer and Information Science, just left this March for the University of Washington, where he was the Boeing Professor of Computer Science & Engineering.

He was widely considered a rising star in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning. At Penn, Taskar was the founding co-director of the Penn Research in Machine Learning Center. He was also a cross-disciplinary researcher, holding a secondary appointment in the Wharton School as well as being a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Annenberg Center for Public Policy.

Before arriving at Penn, Taskar received his B.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford, and held a postdoctoral position at Berkeley.

Taskar leaves behind a legacy as a great educator. Ruogu Hu, a 2013 Graduate School of Engineering graduate, said on the memorial page set up for Taskar, “I was in Ben’s machine learning lectures last year at Penn. And it was one of my most enjoyable class experiences.”

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Geremy Heitz, whom Taskar mentored while at Stanford, wrote about Taskar’s “positive, open, and friendly” manner.

“He was a natural teacher and mentor who cared about us like an older brother,” Heitz said on the memorial site.

His nature suited him well for his role as a father to his daughter Aviv Taskar. When Aviv was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, Drago Anguelov, a close friend of Taskar’s, said in a statement that “taking care of [Aviv] 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.’”

The Taskar family has set up a fund in Ben Taskar’s name to help cover the expenses of Aviv’s medical treatment costs. The memorial service for Taskar will be held Nov. 22nd at the Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco, California.

Taskar leaves behind his wife and their two year-old daughter.

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