Robert Wilensky

Robert Wilensky passed away on March 15, 2013. He received both his BS (mathematics) and PhD (Computer Science) from Yale and had many friends here. Robert was professor emeritus of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the campus’s first faculty members in artificial intelligence when the field was just taking off. Here are some excerpts from the Berkeley press release:

His many research interests included the role of memory processes in natural language processing, language analysis and production and artificial intelligence in programming languages…. One of Wilensky’s most notable contributions at Berkeley was the UC Berkeley Digital Library Project, launched in the early years of the World Wide Web to develop techniques to make books and research materials from any library available online.  He authored and co-authored many scholarly articles, conference papers, books and technical reports on artificial intelligence, planning and knowledge representation, natural language processing, and information dissemination. Among the interesting problems he tackled was how to compute accurate reliability ratings of sellers on eBay, even in the face of possibly untruthful ratings by anonymous users. One of the last papers Wilensky co-authored presented techniques to flag users who are gaming the ratings systems, including sellers who form cliques in which they praise each other, or those who rack up high ratings for inexpensive merchandise before putting big-ticket items up for sale.

“It’s hard to think about Robert without breaking into a smile,” said John Canny, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences.  He started out as a street-smart kid in Brooklyn, he was a math whiz and he managed to be the second kid from his school to get into an Ivy League college. He also had a genuine warmth for people and got along with everyone, except people who kept calling him “Bob.”

He is survived by his wife of 17 years, Ann Danforth of Berkeley; his daughter Mia, 15, and son Eli, 12; his mother, Neesa Wilinsky of Brooklyn, NY; and his sister, Sandra W. Cohen of Memphis, Tenn. The family would deeply appreciate any gifts in Wilensky’s memory made to the Wilensky Children’s Education Fund, which may be sent in care of Ann Danforth, P.O. Box 8586, 1831 Solano Ave., Berkeley, CA  94707