Inference • Last Updated 2/7/2024

What is retrieval-augmented generation (RAG)?

Learn how retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) allows generative AI tools to produce more accurate, contextual responses.


By Kelsie Anderson

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools trained on large language models (LLMs) have reached mass adoption. The best-known tool, ChatGPT, has reached over 100 million users worldwide and sees over one billion visitors per month.

This explosion in interactions with AI is largely due to the speed and accuracy with which these tools can generate a response. The speed of response mostly comes from advancements in the processing power of AI and machine learning hardware. But the improvements in accuracy are partially from an AI technique called retrieval-augmented generation (RAG). Without speed, generative AI tools wouldn’t be more convenient than querying a tool like a search engine for answers. And without accuracy and nuance, people wouldn’t trust those tools to generate responses worth paying attention to.

We’ve already covered how machine learning hardware can make a difference in the speed and power of your AI applications. But keep reading to learn what RAG is and how it’s changed the way enterprise-level systems interact with and understand human language to generate more accurate, contextual responses.

If you’re ready to try advanced AI infrastructure for yourself, sign up for a free Telnyx account to test out Telnyx Inference, currently in beta.

What is retrieval-augmented generation (RAG)?

RAG is an AI technique that marks a significant advancement in the field of natural language processing (NLP). It combines the strengths of two prominent methodologies—neural language models and information retrieval systems—to generate more contextually relevant, accurate responses.

You can think of it this way: RAG allows generative AI tools to do their own research. Without RAG, you’ll receive many answers to your questions that may be correct. They answer some of your questions, but the responses might leave out sources or nuance. That’s because the tool is limited to the data it’s been trained on. If an exact answer doesn’t exist in its database, it can only offer up the information it has on hand.

With RAG, generative AI can look outside its training data for gaps in its knowledge. By consulting external sources, the tool can “learn” more information and give it back to you in a more nuanced, accurate response.

Clearly, there are many processes going on behind the scenes of generative AI. Let’s take a closer look at those processes.

How does RAG work?

It’s easiest to explain how retrieval-augmented generation works by using an example. Below, we’ve run through the process of what it looks like when a chatbot powered by generative AI uses RAG to answer a user’s question.

1. Question input

The user asks a question to the chatbot interface, which could range from a simple query about the weather to a more complex question requiring detailed information or explanations.

2. Query understanding

The chatbot parses and understands the user's question by using NLP techniques to decipher the intent and relevant context of the query.

3. Information retrieval

Using its retrieval component, the chatbot searches a vast database or the internet to find information relevant to the user's question. This step is where RAG comes into play, extending the chatbot's knowledge beyond its pre-trained data and allowing it to pull in up-to-date or specific information to which it wouldn't otherwise have access.

4. Relevance assessment

The bot evaluates the retrieved information for relevance. It might use algorithms to rank the information based on various factors such as accuracy, recency, and contextual alignment with the user's question.

5. Response generation

With the relevant information retrieved, the generative component of the RAG system kicks in. This part of the chatbot uses a neural language model to synthesize the retrieved data into a coherent, contextually appropriate response. The model integrates the essence of the retrieved information with its pre-existing knowledge and the specific nuances of the query to generate an answer.

6. Response refinement

Before delivering the response, the chatbot might refine the answer for clarity, conciseness, and relevance to ensure it contains accurate information presented in a user-friendly manner.

7. Answer delivery

The chatbot presents the generated response—which should be informative, contextually relevant, and directly address the user's query, thanks to the RAG system's ability to pull in and synthesize relevant external information—to the user.

8. Feedback loop

In advanced systems, the bot can absorb the user's reaction to the answer—such as follow-up questions, thanks, or corrections—as feedback to improve its performance over time.

This process, from question to answer, highlights the powerful synergy between retrieval mechanisms and generative AI in systems that use RAG. It enables tools like chatbots to provide more accurate, informative, and context-aware responses, which differs from earlier, less advanced language models.

How is RAG different from traditional language models?

Basic AI frameworks rely solely on their pre-trained knowledge and the input they receive in the moment. RAG techniques, augment this process by actively seeking out and incorporating external information. This approach enables RAG processes to produce responses based on learned patterns and specific, contextually relevant information.

Applications of retrieval-augmented generation

Due to the advancement in generative AI tools, in part because of techniques like RAG, generative AI has many use cases across industries:

Enhancing chatbots and virtual assistants

One of the most apparent applications of RAG is in the development of more sophisticated chatbots and virtual assistants. By using RAG, these systems can access a vast array of information in real time, allowing them to provide more accurate, detailed, and contextually appropriate responses to user queries.

Advancing research and data analysis

RAG models can significantly aid in research and data analysis by quickly retrieving and synthesizing information from extensive databases. This capability is particularly beneficial in fields like medicine and law, where access to up-to-date and comprehensive information is crucial.

Improving content creation and summarization

RAG can assist in generating high-quality, information-rich content. It can also be employed to create concise summaries of lengthy documents, maintaining the essence while omitting redundant details based on user queries about those documents.

Ultimately, retrieval-augmented generation can improve the accuracy and efficiency of many generative AI applications. As we see further advancements in AI, machine learning, and generative AI platforms, we’re likely to see more developments in user-friendliness, understanding of nuance, and retrieval capabilities.

How will you enhance your AI applications with RAG?

Retrieval-augmented generation represents a significant leap forward in the field of natural language processing. Its ability to integrate external knowledge into language generation opens up many possibilities across various sectors. As the technology continues to evolve, it holds the promise of greatly enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of AI-driven communication and information processing.

As you move forward in your AI projects, it’s critical to work with a partner that can provide the infrastructure to power advanced mechanisms and frameworks like RAG. With Telnyx Inference, you can leverage our owned network of GPUs for high-speed inference without the excessive cost of other AI and ML platforms. By leaving the behind-the-scenes machinery to Telnyx, you can focus on creating advanced AI applications for your organization and customers.

Contact our team to learn how Telnyx Inference powers advanced AI applications across industries.

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