Selecting the Proper Vector Embedding Mannequin for Your Generative AI Use Case


In our earlier publish, we mentioned concerns round selecting a vector database for our hypothetical retrieval augmented technology (RAG) use case. However when constructing a RAG software we regularly have to make one other necessary choice: select a vector embedding mannequin, a crucial part of many generative AI functions. 

A vector embedding mannequin is answerable for the transformation of unstructured knowledge (textual content, photos, audio, video) right into a vector of numbers that seize semantic similarity between knowledge objects. Embedding fashions are extensively used past RAG functions, together with suggestion methods, serps, databases, and different knowledge processing methods. 

Understanding their goal, internals, benefits, and drawbacks is essential and that’s what we’ll cowl at the moment. Whereas we’ll be discussing textual content embedding fashions solely, fashions for different sorts of unstructured knowledge work equally.

What Is an Embedding Mannequin?

Machine studying fashions don’t work with textual content immediately, they require numbers as enter. Since textual content is ubiquitous, over time, the ML group developed many options that deal with the conversion from textual content to numbers. There are various approaches of various complexity, however we’ll overview simply a few of them.

A easy instance is one-hot encoding: deal with phrases of a textual content as categorical variables and map every phrase to a vector of 0s and single 1.


Sadly, this embedding strategy just isn’t very sensible, because it results in a lot of distinctive classes and leads to unmanageable dimensionality of output vectors in most sensible instances. Additionally, one-hot encoding doesn’t put related vectors nearer to 1 one other in a vector house.

Embedding fashions have been invented to deal with these points. Similar to one-hot encoding, they take textual content as enter and return vectors of numbers as output, however they’re extra complicated as they’re taught with supervised duties, typically utilizing a neural community. A supervised process could be, for instance, predicting product overview sentiment rating. On this case, the ensuing embedding mannequin would place critiques of comparable sentiment nearer to one another in a vector house. The selection of a supervised process is crucial to producing related embeddings when constructing an embedding mannequin.

Phrase embeddings projected onto 2D axes

On the diagram above we are able to see phrase embeddings solely, however we regularly want greater than that since human language is extra complicated than simply many phrases put collectively. Semantics, phrase order, and different linguistic parameters ought to all be taken under consideration, which implies we have to take it to the subsequent degree – sentence embedding fashions

Sentence embeddings affiliate an enter sentence with a vector of numbers, and, as anticipated, are far more complicated internally since they should seize extra complicated relationships.


Due to progress in deep studying, all state-of-the-art embedding fashions are created with deep neural nets, since they higher seize complicated relationships inherent to a human language.

A superb embedding mannequin ought to: 

  • Be quick since typically it’s only a preprocessing step in a bigger software
  • Return vectors of manageable dimensions
  • Return vectors that seize sufficient details about similarity to be sensible

Let’s now rapidly look into how most embedding fashions are organized internally.

Fashionable Neural Networks Structure

As we simply talked about, all well-performing state-of-the-art embedding fashions are deep neural networks. 

That is an actively growing area and most prime performing fashions are related to some novel structure enchancment. Let’s briefly cowl two essential architectures: BERT and GPT.

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) was printed in 2018 by researchers at Google and described the applying of the bidirectional coaching of “transformer”, a preferred consideration mannequin, to language modeling. Commonplace transformers embody two separate mechanisms: an encoder for studying textual content enter and a decoder that makes a prediction. 

BERT makes use of an encoder that reads your entire sentence of phrases directly which permits the mannequin to be taught the context of a phrase based mostly on all of its environment, left and proper not like legacy approaches that checked out a textual content sequence from left to proper or proper to left. Earlier than feeding phrase sequences into BERT, some phrases are changed with [MASK] tokens after which the mannequin makes an attempt to foretell the unique worth of the masked phrases, based mostly on the context offered by the opposite, non-masked phrases within the sequence.  

Commonplace BERT doesn’t carry out very properly in most benchmarks and BERT fashions require task-specific fine-tuning. However it’s open-source, has been round since 2018, and has comparatively modest system necessities (could be educated on a single medium-range GPU). Because of this, it turned very fashionable for a lot of text-related duties. It’s quick, customizable, and small. For instance, a very fashionable all-Mini-LM mannequin is a modified model of BERT.

GPT (Generative Pre-Skilled Transformer) by OpenAI is totally different. In contrast to BERT, It’s unidirectional, i.e. textual content is processed in a single path and makes use of a decoder from a transformer structure that’s appropriate for predicting the subsequent phrase in a sequence. These fashions are slower and produce very excessive dimensional embeddings, however they normally have many extra parameters, don’t require fine-tuning, and are extra relevant to many duties out of the field. GPT just isn’t open supply and is out there as a paid API.

Context Size and Coaching Knowledge

One other necessary parameter of an embedding mannequin is context size. Context size is the variety of tokens a mannequin can keep in mind when working with a textual content. An extended context window permits the mannequin to grasp extra complicated relationships inside a wider physique of textual content. Because of this, fashions can present outputs of upper high quality, e.g. seize semantic similarity higher.

To leverage an extended context, coaching knowledge ought to embody longer items of coherent textual content: books, articles, and so forth. Nevertheless, rising context window size will increase the complexity of a mannequin and will increase compute and reminiscence necessities for coaching. 

There are strategies that assist handle useful resource necessities e.g. approximate consideration, however they do that at a value to high quality. That’s one other trade-off that impacts high quality and prices: bigger context lengths seize extra complicated relationships of a human language, however require extra assets.

Additionally, as at all times, the standard of coaching knowledge is essential for all fashions. Embedding fashions aren’t any exception. 

Semantic Search and Data Retrieval

Utilizing embedding fashions for semantic search is a comparatively new strategy. For many years, individuals used different applied sciences: boolean fashions, latent semantic indexing (LSI), and varied probabilistic fashions.

A few of these approaches work fairly properly for a lot of current use instances and are nonetheless extensively used within the trade. 

One of the vital standard conventional probabilistic fashions is BM25 (BM is “finest matching”), a search relevance rating perform. It’s used to estimate the relevance of a doc to a search question and ranks paperwork based mostly on the question phrases from every listed doc. Solely just lately have embedding fashions began persistently outperforming it, however BM25 remains to be used lots since it’s easier than utilizing embedding fashions, it has decrease pc necessities, and the outcomes are explainable.


Not each mannequin sort has a complete analysis strategy that helps to decide on an current mannequin. 

Thankfully, textual content embedding fashions have frequent benchmark suites reminiscent of:

The article “BEIR: A Heterogeneous Benchmark for Zero-shot Analysis of Data Retrieval Fashions” proposed a reference set of benchmarks and datasets for info retrieval duties. The unique BEIR benchmark consists of a set of 19 datasets and strategies for search high quality analysis. Strategies embody: question-answering, fact-checking, and entity retrieval. Now anybody who releases a textual content embedding mannequin for info retrieval duties can run the benchmark and see how their mannequin ranks towards the competitors.

Huge Textual content Embedding Benchmarks embody BEIR and different elements that cowl 58 datasets and 112 languages. The general public leaderboard for MTEB outcomes could be discovered right here.

These benchmarks have been run on a whole lot of current fashions and their leaderboards are very helpful to make an knowledgeable selection about mannequin choice.

Utilizing Embedding Fashions in a Manufacturing Setting

Benchmark scores on customary duties are essential, however they symbolize just one dimension.

After we use an embedding mannequin for search, we run it twice:

  • When doing offline indexing of obtainable knowledge
  • When embedding a consumer question for a search request 

There are two necessary penalties of this. 

The primary is that we now have to reindex all current knowledge after we change or improve an embedding mannequin. All methods constructed utilizing embedding fashions ought to be designed with upgradability in thoughts as a result of newer and higher fashions are launched on a regular basis and, more often than not, upgrading a mannequin is the best method to enhance general system efficiency. An embedding mannequin is a much less secure part of the system infrastructure on this case.

The second consequence of utilizing an embedding mannequin for consumer queries is that the inference latency turns into essential when the variety of customers goes up. Mannequin inference takes extra time for better-performing fashions, particularly in the event that they require GPU to run: having latency greater than 100ms for a small question just isn’t exceptional for fashions which have greater than 1B parameters. It seems that smaller, leaner fashions are nonetheless essential in a higher-load manufacturing state of affairs. 

The tradeoff between high quality and latency is actual and we should always at all times keep in mind about it when selecting an embedding mannequin.

As we now have talked about above, embedding fashions assist handle output vector dimensionality which impacts the efficiency of many algorithms downstream. Usually the smaller the mannequin, the shorter the output vector size, however, typically, it’s nonetheless too nice for smaller fashions. That’s when we have to use dimensionality discount algorithms reminiscent of PCA (principal part evaluation), SNE / tSNE (stochastic neighbor embedding), and UMAP (uniform manifold approximation). 

One other place we are able to use dimensionality discount is earlier than storing embeddings in a database. Ensuing vector embeddings will occupy much less house and retrieval pace shall be quicker, however will come at a worth for the standard downstream. Vector databases are sometimes not the first storage, so embeddings could be regenerated with higher precision from the unique supply knowledge. Their use helps to scale back the output vector size and, because of this, makes the system quicker and leaner.

Making the Proper Alternative

There’s an abundance of things and trade-offs that ought to be thought-about when selecting an embedding mannequin for a use case. The rating of a possible mannequin in frequent benchmarks is necessary, however we should always not neglect that it’s the bigger fashions which have a greater rating. Bigger fashions have greater inference time which might severely restrict their use in low latency situations as typically an embedding mannequin is a pre-processing step in a bigger pipeline. Additionally, bigger fashions require GPUs to run. 

When you intend to make use of a mannequin in a low-latency state of affairs, it’s higher to concentrate on latency first after which see which fashions with acceptable latency have the best-in-class efficiency. Additionally, when constructing a system with an embedding mannequin it’s best to plan for modifications since higher fashions are launched on a regular basis and sometimes it’s the only method to enhance the efficiency of your system.

Closing the Generative AI Confidence Hole

Uncover how DataRobot helps you ship real-world worth with generative AI

Be taught extra

In regards to the creator

Nick Volynets

Senior Knowledge Engineer, DataRobot

Nick Volynets is a senior knowledge engineer working with the workplace of the CTO the place he enjoys being on the coronary heart of DataRobot innovation. He’s all for giant scale machine studying and keen about AI and its affect.

Meet Nick Volynets


Leave a comment