Startup Vectara Takes Search Up Just a Notch

October 25, 2022

Is this the enterprise search innovation we have been waiting for? A team of ex-Googlers have used what they learned about large language models (LLMs), natural language processing (NLP), and transformer techniques to launch a new startup. We learn about their approach in VentureBeat‘s article, “Vectara’s AI-Based Neural Search-as-a-Service Challenges Keyword-Based Searches.” The platform combines LLMs, NLP, data integration pipelines, and vector techniques into a neural network. The approach can be used for various purposes, we learn, but the company is leading with search. Journalist Sean Michael Kerner writes:

“[Cofounder Amr] Awadallah explained that when a user issues a query, Vectara uses its neural network to convert that query from the language space, meaning the vocabulary and the grammar, into the vector space, which is numbers and math. Vectara indexes all the data that an organization wants to search in a vector database, which will find the vector that has closest proximity to a user query. Feeding the vector database is a large data pipeline that ingests different data types. For example, the data pipeline knows how to handle standard Word documents, as well as PDF files, and is able to understand the structure. The Vectara platform also provides results with an approach known as cross-attentional ranking that takes into account both the meaning of the query and the returned results to get even better results.”

We are reminded a transformer puts each word into context for studious algorithms, relating it to other words in the surrounding text. But what about things like chemical structures, engineering diagrams, embedded strings in images? It seems we must wait longer for a way to easily search for such non-linguistic, non-keyword items. Perhaps Vectara will find a way to deliver that someday, but next it plans to work on a recommendation engine and a tool to discover related topics. The startup, based in Silicon Valley, launched in 2020 under the “stealth” name Zir AI. Recent seed funding of $20 million has enabled the firm to put on its public face and put out this inaugural product. There is a free plan, but one must contact the company for any further pricing details.

Cynthia Murrell, October 25, 2022


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