With Generative AI, Context Is King

DataStax
Building Real-World, Real-Time AI
8 min readJan 22, 2024

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Your organization’s data is a big differentiator. It’s also key to making your generative AI applications uniquely advantageous.

Image: DALL-E 2

By Michel de Ru

The acceleration of businesses that are transforming into AI-driven organizations is happening everywhere. However, within the rapidly evolving generative AI ecosystem, establishing a lasting competitive edge becomes challenging. Although GenAI offers significant potential for innovation and progress, its widespread availability means that unique differentiation is key to leveraging its full benefits. Sure, the GenAI ecosystem helps make magic happen, but it’s available to everyone!

Providing context to LLMs

Those familiar with the publishing industry know the guiding principle of “content is king.” The publishing era, marked by print initially, emphasized the paramount importance of content in attracting and retaining audiences. Publishers and media companies thrived by producing high-quality, engaging, and often exclusive content. This content drove readership, viewership, and ultimately, advertising revenues. The phrase underscored the idea that in a landscape filled with various media outlets and platforms, the success of a publication largely hinged on the quality and appeal of its content.

In today’s digital landscape, the adage “content is king” remains as relevant as it was during the publishing era. Despite technological advancements and the rise of new media formats, the core principle that engaging and quality content drives audience engagement and business success continues to hold true. Whether it’s through social media, blogs, video streaming, or interactive platforms, the ability to create compelling content is still a critical factor in capturing and maintaining audience interest in a highly competitive digital world.

As we move into GenAI use cases, the principle of “content is king” evolves to become even more significant. In the GenAI context, it’s not just about creating content, but also about how AI can generate personalized, contextually relevant, and highly engaging content at scale. This capability extends the concept of content value, making it a pivotal aspect in various applications, from personalized marketing to automated content creation. The success of GenAI implementations will heavily depend on the quality and relevance of the content they produce, maintaining the age-old adage’s relevance in a new technological era.

Shifting from “content is king” to “context is king” marks a crucial transformation, offering significant opportunities. Foundational large language models (LLMs) are trained on vast, publicly available datasets, up to a certain cut-off date, and do not inherently include proprietary or organization-specific information. This training approach limits their direct applicability in specialized or up-to-date business contexts. To harness a competitive edge, augmenting these LLMs with tailored, contextual information becomes pivotal. Businesses can infuse LLMs with unique, context-rich data, enhancing the models’ relevance and applicability to specific business needs, thereby creating distinct, valuable results that are not just general but uniquely advantageous.

Differentiate with data

By now it has become clear that GenAI will absolutely offer your customers new magical experiences and interactions with your business. However, using GenAI will not be a differentiator for long. The ecosystem is easy to use and accessible to millions of developers, unlike traditional AI which requires specialized skills.

So, what sets you apart? It’s the unique combination of your business, the talent of your team, your intellectual property and your data! Your data and its extreme added value will make the difference in the end and provide the much needed differentiated and sustainable competitive advantage!

Positioning GenAI around a centralized data strategy ensures that AI applications are optimally aligned with the organization’s core information assets, enhancing the effectiveness and relevance of AI-driven solutions. This approach ensures that AI applications are deeply integrated with the unique context and specifics of the business’s data, leading to more tailored and relevant outputs. By aligning GenAI capabilities directly with the rich, proprietary datasets they possess, businesses can leverage AI to generate insights, solutions, and content that are directly applicable to their specific operational and customer needs.

This data-centric focus allows for a more nuanced and effective use of AI, enhancing customer experiences through personalized interactions and services. It also ensures that the AI’s functionality is grounded in the reality of the business’s data landscape, making its applications more practical and impactful. In essence, by centralizing GenAI around their own unique data, businesses can harness the full potential of AI to create value-added services that resonate more deeply with their customer base.

Lastly, and perhaps even more important, a centralized data strategy also means you stay in control of the GenAI ecosystem by not being locked in into one provider. It allows you to switch technologies and capabilities in and out as innovation progresses.

Centralizing data

New innovative databases have emerged specifically designed to handle the new requirements around providing context to AI and particularly GenAI solutions in real time. These so-called vector databases play a crucial role in positioning GenAI around a centralized data strategy. Vector data, essentially arrays of numbers, semantically describe complex data points such as images, sounds, texts, and other high-dimensional data types often used in AI and machine learning.

A vector database works in a way that is similar to how humans understand the deeper meaning of sentences, images, and similar content. Let’s break this down with an analogy: Imagine you’re having a conversation with a friend. They tell you, “I’m feeling under the weather.” You understand they mean they’re feeling ill, not that they are physically beneath the weather. This is because you comprehend the semantic meaning, or the deeper intent, behind their words. A vector databases mirrors this as follows:

Translating data into vectors

Just like you translated your friend’s words into their deeper meaning, a vector database translates sentences, images, and other complex data into vectors. These vectors are like a mathematical code or language that represents the deeper meaning or essence of that data.

Finding similarities

When you hear different phrases with similar meanings, like “I’m not feeling well” and “I’m feeling sick,” you understand they’re conveying the same idea. Similarly, a vector database can find and match vectors that are semantically similar. It recognizes that different data can have similar underlying meanings or themes, even if they’re not exactly the same on the surface.

Responding to queries

If someone asks you for movie recommendations based on the movie they just watched, you think about the themes, genre, and style of that movie to suggest similar ones. A vector database does something like this. When given a query, it looks for vectors (representing data) that are semantically similar to the query’s vector.

Handling diverse data

Just as you can understand meanings across various types of information — be it text, an image, or spoken word — a vector database can handle different types of data, finding semantic similarities across them all.

In essence, a vector database functions by converting complex data into a form where it can easily understand and compare the deeper meanings, much like how we grasp the semantic meanings in our everyday interactions. This capability makes it incredibly useful for tasks where understanding and finding similarities in the deeper essence of data is key.

Selecting the right technology

Choosing the best vector solution from the numerous available options for vector storage and search is a highly impactful decision for an organization. As vectors and AI are crucial in developing the next wave of intelligent applications for businesses and the software industry, the most effective choice typically also demonstrates superior performance. Keep in mind these key aspects while selecting a vector database for your organization:

Open source with enterprise support

If possible, opt for a vector database that is open-source. This ensures transparency, community support, and continuous improvement of the software.

Availability on all cloud service providers to avoid lock in

Choose a vector database available across all major CSPs. This prevents vendor lock-in, giving you the flexibility to switch providers or use multiple providers without compatibility issues. Being able to change CSPs is especially important while tapping into the added value of the Generative AI ecosystem as explained before.

Proven track record

Look for a vector database that is proven effective through use cases by for instance Fortune 100 companies. This indicates reliability and effectiveness in handling large-scale, complex data needs.

Consumption-based cost model

A consumption-based cost model that scales with your business case is essential. This ensures that you only pay for what you use, making it cost-effective as your business grows.

Relevance of vector similarity search

Ensure the vector database excels in vector similarity search. This functionality is critical for efficiently finding and retrieving data based on similarity, which is a cornerstone of many AI and machine learning applications.

Hybrid search with metadata and full text

The ability to use metadata and full text for hybrid search is a valuable feature. This allows for more nuanced and comprehensive searches, combining traditional full-text search with advanced vector search capabilities, ultimately boosting relevancy which improves GenAI results significantly.

Your data are your crown jewels. It’s your intellectual property that will set you apart from the competition. And for this reason alone, it’s imperative to store it into a database that provides performance and reliability! While you’re working through your long and short list of technologies, take a look at DataStax Astra DB. In a recent study conducted by analyst firm GigaOm, Astra DB was found to outperform Pinecone, another popular vector database, across several important benchmarks:

  • 9x higher throughput when ingesting and indexing data
  • 74x faster P99 query response time when ingesting and indexing data
  • 20% higher F1 relevancy
  • 80% lower total cost of ownership over a three-year period in three scenarios

What’s next?

The field of GenAI is advancing fast, presenting vast opportunities for businesses to enhance customer interactions through personalization. While the array of innovations, possibilities, and providers in this space may initially seem overwhelming, the key lies in making strategic decisions. Choosing the right architecture and identifying the optimal data storage solution is crucial. This approach ensures that your data, a vital source of sustainable competitive advantage, remains under your control. By maintaining ownership of your data and avoiding locking it into a single GenAI provider, you retain the flexibility to choose and adapt AI technologies as needed, keeping you at the forefront of AI application in your industry.

Practical experience underscores the significance of beginning with prototypes of GenAI applications to discern what aligns best with your business needs. Numerous DataStax customers have experimented with various approaches and are now successfully running their initial GenAI applications in production, which are delivering tangible benefits to their customers. These pioneering applications not only inspire new use-cases but also provide a solid foundation for further development. Launching your first GenAI application into production can serve as a catalyst, unlocking a multitude of new opportunities and possibilities for your business.

Learn more about Astra DB’s vector capabilities.

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DataStax
Building Real-World, Real-Time AI

DataStax provides the real-time vector data tools that generative AI apps need, with seamless integration with developers' stacks of choice.