LeanVec: Searching vectors faster by making them fit

Mariano Tepper · Ishwar Singh Bhati · Cecilia Aguerrebere · Mark Hildebrand · Theodore L. Willke


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Modern deep learning models have the ability to generate high-dimensional vectors whose similarity reflects semantic resemblance. Thus, similarity search, i.e., the operation of retrieving those vectors in a large collection that are similar to a given query, has become a critical component of a wide range of applications that demand highly accurate and timely answers. In this setting, the high vector dimensionality puts similarity search systems under compute and memory pressure, leading to subpar performance. Additionally, cross-modal retrieval tasks have become increasingly common, e.g., where a user inputs a text query to find the most relevant images for that query. However, these queries often have different distributions than the database embeddings, making it challenging to achieve high accuracy. In this work, we present LeanVec, a framework that combines linear dimensionality reduction with vector quantization to accelerate similarity search on high-dimensional vectors while maintaining accuracy. We present LeanVec variants for in-distribution (ID) and out-of-distribution (OOD) queries. LeanVec-ID yields accuracies on par with those from recently introduced deep learning alternatives whose computational overhead precludes their usage in practice. LeanVec-OOD uses a novel technique for dimensionality reduction that considers the query and database distributions to simultaneously boost the accuracy and the performance of the framework even further (even presenting competitive results when the query and database distributions match). All in all, our extensive and varied experimental results show that LeanVec produces state-of-the-art results, with up to 3.7x improvement in search throughput and up to 4.9x faster index build time over the state of the art.