Binary Embedding-based Retrieval at Tencent

Large-scale embedding-based retrieval (EBR) is the cornerstone of search-related industrial applications. Given a user query, the system of EBR aims to identify relevant information from a large corpus of documents that may be tens or hundreds of billions in size. The storage and computation turn out to be expensive and inefficient with massive documents and high concurrent queries, making it difficult to further scale up. To tackle the challenge, we propose a binary embedding-based retrieval (BEBR) engine equipped with a recurrent binarization algorithm that enables customized bits per dimension. Specifically, we compress the full-precision query and document embeddings, formulated as float vectors in general, into a composition of multiple binary vectors using a lightweight transformation model with residual multilayer perception (MLP) blocks. We can therefore tailor the number of bits for different applications to trade off accuracy loss and cost savings. Importantly, we enable task-agnostic efficient training of the binarization model using a new embedding-to-embedding strategy. We also exploit the compatible training of binary embeddings so that the BEBR engine can support indexing among multiple embedding versions within a unified system. To further realize efficient search, we propose Symmetric Distance Calculation (SDC) to achieve lower response time than Hamming codes. We successfully employed the introduced BEBR to Tencent products, including Sogou, Tencent Video, QQ World, etc. The binarization algorithm can be seamlessly generalized to various tasks with multiple modalities. Extensive experiments on offline benchmarks and online A/B tests demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of our method, significantly saving 30%~50% index costs with almost no loss of accuracy at the system level.

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