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What Is a Vector Database and How Does It Work?


Trinh Nguyen

Sep 08, 2023

Storing and retrieving data have become pivotal to the success of various applications, especially in the AI field. With the surge in unstructured and high-dimensional data, traditional databases often struggle to handle complex queries and similarity-based searches efficiently.

This has given rise to vector databases – specialized systems designed to store and manage vector embeddings, offering a robust solution for AI-related tasks.

But what is a vector database? Why is it essential to implement AI projects? Or how is a vector database different from a traditional database?

Today’s article will answer all these questions, giving a clear picture of vector databases so you can make use of them for your AI projects.

What Is a Vector Database?

What Is a Vector Database?

A vector database is a specialized database designed to store and retrieve vector data or vector embeddings, aka compact numerical representations of data objects. These embeddings capture the inherent features and relationships within the data, transforming complex and unstructured data into structured vectors.

Unlike traditional databases that primarily deal with structured data, vector databases are optimized for handling high-dimensional data points. These data points are represented as vectors, aka vector data, mathematical entities with multiple values or features.

Vector data utilizes vector embeddings to index and find an unstructured and semi-structured dataset—for example, images, text, and sensor data via vector search. You can extract unstructured data from invoice or CV files into structured formats like Excel or JSON using unstructured data processing tools.

Vector databases help handle vector embeddings and provide a comprehensive solution for managing unstructured and semi-structured data.

What Are Vector Embeddings?

Vector embeddings are the fundamental concept in vector databases. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the heart of vector databases.

These vector embeddings are generated through Word2Vec, FastText, and more. By mapping data into this space, vector embeddings capture the relationships and similarities between different data points. This enables efficient similarity search and retrieval operations in vector databases.

For example, in a natural language context, words with similar meanings are mapped to nearby points in the embedding vector space.

How Does a Vector Database Work?

The architecture of a vector database revolves around indexing, storage, and query processing. When a vector database indexes vectors, vector embeddings are organized using techniques like approximate nearest neighbors (ANN) or inverted indices, enabling rapid retrieval of similar vectors.

Storage mechanisms ensure that vector embeddings and metadata are efficiently stored to minimize data redundancy. Query processing involves similarity scoring and ranking, where queries are matched against the indexed vectors to identify the closest matches.

The Importance of Vector Databases

The Importance of Vector Databases

Traditional databases struggle with the demands of AI applications due to their inability to efficiently process high-dimensional and similarity-based queries. Vector databases and vector embeddings bridge this gap by specializing in similarity searches, allowing applications to quickly retrieve semantically similar data points.

They enable efficient similarity search, allowing AI systems to find similar data points quickly. This is particularly useful in recommendation systems, content-based image and text search, and clustering algorithms.

What’s more, vector databases are highly scalable and capable of handling large volumes of high-dimensional data. This scalability is essential in AI applications that deal with massive datasets.

Last but not least, vector databases facilitate real-time analysis and decision-making by providing fast retrieval of relevant data points.

Applications of Vector Databases

Applications of Vector Databases

Vector databases have gained significant attention in various fields, including AI / Machine Learning, NLP, and image recognition and retrieval. It’s thanks to their ability to handle high-dimensional data and support similarity search operations efficiently.

#1 Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning

Vector databases can store normal behavior embeddings and do vector search for anomalies in new data by comparing their vectors to the stored reference vectors.

In collaborative filtering, each vector embedding representing users’ preferences and items’ features can be stored in a vector database. This enables efficient retrieval of similar users or items for personalized recommendations.

#2 Natural Language Processing

With the help of vector databases, it’s possible to quickly find documents that are semantically similar to a given query document by storing embeddings of documents.

Vectors representing named entities (e.g., people and organizations) handle efficient entity recognition tasks, allowing you to locate similar entities in large text datasets.

Plus, vector databases facilitate semantic search by enabling the retrieval of documents or passages. It’ll capture similar meanings to a user’s query rather than relying solely on keyword matching.

#3 Image Recognition and Retrieval

Vector databases save embeddings of images generated by convolutional neural networks (CNNs). This enables efficient retrieval of visually similar images given a query vector image.

Additionally, in face recognition applications, vector databases representing facial features can allow quick identification of similar faces and supporting applications like access control or identity verification.

In terms of image clustering, vectors cluster similar images together, aiding in organizing and categorizing large image datasets.

#4 Video Analysis

When keeping vectors representing keyframes or segments of videos, vector databases can generate video summaries or identify representative frames.

For tasks such as identifying specific actions within videos, vectors that stimulate different actions will facilitate efficient recognition and analysis.

#5 Genomics and Bioinformatics

Saving embeddings of genetic sequences in vector databases enables fast comparison and alignment of DNA or protein sequences for tasks such as sequence similarity searching.

When it comes to drug discovery, the similarity search in vector databases will identify molecules with similar chemical properties or biological activities.

#6 Audio Analysis

Audio vectors in vector databases do wonders for music retrieval systems that find similar songs based on audio content.

For speech-related applications, vector databases of phonemes, spoken words, or acoustic features can be stored for speech recognition and identification.

Ready to Use Vector Databases for Your AI Projects?

Vector databases are a powerful tool in the AI field, enabling efficient storage and retrieval of high-dimensional data.

Vector databases facilitate fast and accurate similarity search operations by leveraging vector embeddings, indexing techniques, and distance metrics. Their scalability, real-time capabilities, and applications in recommendation systems, content-based search, and anomaly detection make them indispensable in AI. As AI continues to advance, the importance of vector databases in handling complex data will only grow, making them a key component in implementing AI solutions.

With our strong portfolio in implementing vector databases in real projects, Neurond is confident in delivering outstanding AI solutions that best suit your business.