Sam Roweis died unexpectedly on January 12, 2010.

He was a truly wonderful person; a beloved son, husband and father; and a treasured friend and colleague.

This is a place for all of us who were lucky enough to know Sam to share our memories and to help celebrate his life.
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Thursday, 14 January 2010

from Josh Tenenbaum

I wasn't as close to Sam as many others but I've known him for a very long time, and we had our moments:

1. I remember being a grad student trying to convince him to come to MIT for his Phd, over dinner at a long-gone Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square. I had only just met him that morning, at MIT's interview day, but there I was, trying so hard to convince him to come and spend the next few years as my friend and colleague. It reminds me how Sam was someone you just couldn't help liking from the first moment you meet him.

2. Back in 2000, I remember a tense but ultimately reassuring long-distance phone negotiation when it turned out we were both planning to submit similar papers on nonlinear dimensionality reduction to Science, within a few weeks of each other. It was one of the most stressful moments of my career, but Sam made it less so, and in the end of course it turned out unbelievably well for both of us.

3. I remember skiing with him (while he snowboarded) at NIPS, talking science, politics and once riding a little two person ski lift that felt like a loveseat.

4. I remember performing with him in an interpretive dance on various spectral methods for dimensionality reduction and clustering at the NIPS workshop banquets. I don't remember whether it was my idea or his, but if left to my own will I would never have done it. He gave me the nerve and encouragement, and it was a hit. That moment was the inspiration for a few decent skits we've done at NIPS over the years, and the direct inspiration in fact for a similar dance I did this year.

More than anything I remember the generosity with which he talked about his work and ideas, and everyone else's. It was as if our field was one big joint effort to him, his heart and his knowledge were so big that he could embrace and illuminate the whole scope of people and ideas, not just in machine learning but in a whole set of neighboring science and engineering disciplines. And he was someone you could feel close to -- and genuinely feel love for -- even if you hardly knew him.



  1. re your #2, I recall quite vividly Sam describing this whole episode as "a model of gentlemanly science." I think that phrase captures his professional aesthetic rather well.

  2. Very sad news. I only met Sam a couple of times, but could see clearly in him the kind of intellectual vitality and generosity that lifts everyone around him.