Nandan Thakur


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Evaluating Embedding APIs for Information Retrieval
Ehsan Kamalloo | Xinyu Zhang | Odunayo Ogundepo | Nandan Thakur | David Alfonso-hermelo | Mehdi Rezagholizadeh | Jimmy Lin
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 5: Industry Track)

The ever-increasing size of language models curtails their widespread access to the community, thereby galvanizing many companies and startups into offering access to large language models through APIs. One particular API, suitable for dense retrieval, is the semantic embedding API that builds vector representations of a given text. With a growing number of APIs at our disposal, in this paper, our goal is to analyze semantic embedding APIs in realistic retrieval scenarios in order to assist practitioners and researchers in finding suitable services according to their needs. Specifically, we wish to investigate the capabilities of existing APIs on domain generalization and multilingual retrieval. For this purpose, we evaluate the embedding APIs on two standard benchmarks, BEIR, and MIRACL. We find that re-ranking BM25 results using the APIs is a budget-friendly approach and is most effective on English, in contrast to the standard practice, i.e., employing them as first-stage retrievers. For non-English retrieval, re-ranking still improves the results, but a hybrid model with BM25 works best albeit at a higher cost. We hope our work lays the groundwork for thoroughly evaluating APIs that are critical in search and more broadly, in information retrieval.

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MIRACL: A Multilingual Retrieval Dataset Covering 18 Diverse Languages
Xinyu Zhang | Nandan Thakur | Odunayo Ogundepo | Ehsan Kamalloo | David Alfonso-Hermelo | Xiaoguang Li | Qun Liu | Mehdi Rezagholizadeh | Jimmy Lin
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 11

MIRACL is a multilingual dataset for ad hoc retrieval across 18 languages that collectively encompass over three billion native speakers around the world. This resource is designed to support monolingual retrieval tasks, where the queries and the corpora are in the same language. In total, we have gathered over 726k high-quality relevance judgments for 78k queries over Wikipedia in these languages, where all annotations have been performed by native speakers hired by our team. MIRACL covers languages that are both typologically close as well as distant from 10 language families and 13 sub-families, associated with varying amounts of publicly available resources. Extensive automatic heuristic verification and manual assessments were performed during the annotation process to control data quality. In total, MIRACL represents an investment of around five person-years of human annotator effort. Our goal is to spur research on improving retrieval across a continuum of languages, thus enhancing information access capabilities for diverse populations around the world, particularly those that have traditionally been underserved. MIRACL is available at


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GPL: Generative Pseudo Labeling for Unsupervised Domain Adaptation of Dense Retrieval
Kexin Wang | Nandan Thakur | Nils Reimers | Iryna Gurevych
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Dense retrieval approaches can overcome the lexical gap and lead to significantly improved search results. However, they require large amounts of training data which is not available for most domains. As shown in previous work (Thakur et al., 2021b), the performance of dense retrievers severely degrades under a domain shift. This limits the usage of dense retrieval approaches to only a few domains with large training datasets. In this paper, we propose the novel unsupervised domain adaptation method Generative Pseudo Labeling (GPL), which combines a query generator with pseudo labeling from a cross-encoder. On six representative domain-specialized datasets, we find the proposed GPL can outperform an out-of-the-box state-of-the-art dense retrieval approach by up to 9.3 points nDCG@10. GPL requires less (unlabeled) data from the target domain and is more robust in its training than previous methods. We further investigate the role of six recent pre-training methods in the scenario of domain adaptation for retrieval tasks, where only three could yield improved results. The best approach, TSDAE (Wang et al., 2021) can be combined with GPL, yielding another average improvement of 1.4 points nDCG@10 across the six tasks. The code and the models are available at


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Augmented SBERT: Data Augmentation Method for Improving Bi-Encoders for Pairwise Sentence Scoring Tasks
Nandan Thakur | Nils Reimers | Johannes Daxenberger | Iryna Gurevych
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

There are two approaches for pairwise sentence scoring: Cross-encoders, which perform full-attention over the input pair, and Bi-encoders, which map each input independently to a dense vector space. While cross-encoders often achieve higher performance, they are too slow for many practical use cases. Bi-encoders, on the other hand, require substantial training data and fine-tuning over the target task to achieve competitive performance. We present a simple yet efficient data augmentation strategy called Augmented SBERT, where we use the cross-encoder to label a larger set of input pairs to augment the training data for the bi-encoder. We show that, in this process, selecting the sentence pairs is non-trivial and crucial for the success of the method. We evaluate our approach on multiple tasks (in-domain) as well as on a domain adaptation task. Augmented SBERT achieves an improvement of up to 6 points for in-domain and of up to 37 points for domain adaptation tasks compared to the original bi-encoder performance.