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Understanding Recall in HNSW Search

Vector search systems, pivotal in AI applications, often rely on the Hierarchical Navigable Small Worlds (HNSW) algorithm. However, the behaviour of HNSW under real-world scenarios using vectors generated with deep learning models remains under-explored. This article focuses on HNSW's efficacy across a spectrum of datasets, including synthetic vectors tailored to mimic specific intrinsic dimensionalities, widely-used retrieval benchmarks with popular embedding models, and proprietary e-commerce image data with CLIP models. We survey the most popular HNSW vector databases and collate their default parameters to provide a realistic fixed parameterisation for the duration of the paper.

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