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Pickleball Yoda & Rerankers

Pickleball Yoda & Rerankers


Dr. Ryan Ries here. Today I want us to dig into a crucial component for optimizing retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) systems — rerankers.

As you may know, RAG models combine the strengths of large language models with retrieval systems to generate high-quality outputs. Unlocking their full potential requires getting the retrieval piece right. And that's where rerankers come in.

What is a reranker?

A reranker acts as the second filter in the retrieval process, reordering the initial set of retrieved documents to prioritize the most relevant ones. By boosting the quality of that final retrieved-context, rerankers play a vital role in reducing hallucinations and costly retrieval overheads.

Let me break it down further…

There's a diverse array of reranker options out there. Early approaches were based on cross-encoders — models that take query-document pairs and score their relevance through a classification mechanism. While powerful, their computational demands limited scalability.

Enter the multi-vector models like ColBERT! These use a "late interaction" approach by independently encoding queries and documents first. This allows precomputing document representations for much faster retrieval times across massive collections.

The emergence of LLM-based rerankers

Now, here’s where things get really exciting.

By prompting large language models, we can get them to autonomously rerank documents in innovative ways, like listwise ranking entire sets or pairwise scoring. When coupled with supervised finetuning on informational retrieval (IR) datasets, the latest LLM rerankers achieve striking performance.

Of course, each option has its tradeoffs in areas like cost, latency, generalization, and data requirements. So, how do you select the right reranker? 

Choose wisely: Selecting the right reranker

Choosing the best reranker demands carefully evaluating factors like:

  • Relevance improvement metrics over your initial retriever
  • Latency impact on application performance
  • Ability to understand rich contextual information
  • Generalization across domains beyond just the training data
  • Consider cost feasibility given your resource constraints

The possibilities unlocked by combining large language models with innovative reranking methods are virtually limitless. Just like we discussed in last week’s Mission Matrix on data augmentation, we're entering an era where any organization can build highly customized AI assistants without the resources of Big Tech. No more being held back by lack of training data — solutions like reranking enable few-shot learning that maximizes leverage from limited datasets.

Deploying production RAG systems is not for the faint of heart

Having comprehensive observability into your end-to-end pipeline — from the initial retriever to reranker to final language model — is mission-critical for rapid iteration. You need granular visibility into which chunks are being retrieved, reranked, and ultimately attributed to identify bottlenecks.

That's why at Mission Cloud, my team and I are pioneering cutting-edge techniques to make RAG systems more accessible and observable than ever before. What domains are you most excited to apply advanced RAG capabilities to? Reply and let me know — I'm all ears.

I also want to mention some upcoming events I’ll be at. Next month I’m attending the LA Summit. If you’ll be there, join me at our Happy Hour. I’m also co-hosting a webinar with Jim Tran from AWS on Data Readiness for Generative AI. You may be surprised by what it takes to make sure your data foundation is strong before implementing production-level AI.

Reply and let me know if I’ll see you at either of these events.

Until next time,

Now, here’s our weekly AI-generated image & the prompt I used. In honor of Star Wars Day this Saturday, I described Star Wars characters and Tatooine without ever using the actual names (per DALLE’s content policy). Super interesting how close it got to the actual likeness of Yoda. May the 4th be with you!


"Imagine a pickleball game on a desert landscape. The court is simple, with a sandy surface, and is surrounded by cheering fans dressed in robes and armor. In the center, a small, green, wise-looking figure stands on one side of the net, gripping a paddle. Across the net, a tall, dark figure in black armor stands menacingly. The game is intense, and fans cheer as both figures prepare to serve. In the background, a large, slug-like figure lounges on a throne, laughing at the spectacle."

Author Spotlight:

Ryan Ries

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