NER-Powered Semantic Search

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This notebook shows how to use Named Entity Recognition (NER) for hybrid metadata + vector search with Pinecone. We will:

  1. Extract named entities from text.
  2. Store them in a Pinecone index as metadata (alongside respective text vectors).
  3. We extract named entities from incoming queries and use them to filter and search only through records containing these named entities.

This is particularly helpful if you want to restrict the search score to records that contain information about the named entities that are also found within the query.

Let's get started.

Install Dependencies

!pip install sentence_transformers pinecone-client datasets

Load and Prepare Dataset

We use a dataset containing ~190K articles scraped from Medium. We select 50K articles from the dataset as indexing all the articles may take some time. This dataset can be loaded from the HuggingFace dataset hub as follows:

from datasets import load_dataset

# load the dataset and convert to pandas dataframe
df = load_dataset(
# drop empty rows and select 50k articles
df = df.dropna().sample(50000, random_state=32)
title text url authors timestamp tags
4172 How the Data Stole Christmas by Anonymous\n\nThe door sprung open and our t... [] 2019-12-24 13:22:33.143000+00:00 [Data Science, Big Data, Dataops, Analytics, D...
174868 Automating Light Switch using the ESP32 Board ... A story about how I escaped the boring task th... ['Tomas Rasymas'] 2021-09-14 07:20:52.342000+00:00 [Programming, Python, Software Development, Ha...
100171 Keep Going Quotes Sayings for When Hope is Lost It’s a very thrilling thing to achieve a goal.... ['Yourself Quotes'] 2021-01-05 12:13:04.018000+00:00 [Quotes]
141757 When Will the Smoke Clear From Bay Area Skies? Bay Area cities are contending with some of th... ['Matt Charnock'] 2020-09-15 22:38:33.924000+00:00 [Bay Area, San Francisco, California, Wildfire...
183489 The ABC’s of Sustainability… easy as 1, 2, 3 By Julia DiPrete\n\n(according to the Jackson ... ['Sip Wines'] 2021-03-02 23:39:49.948000+00:00 [Wine Tasting, Sustainability, Wine]

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We will use the article title and its text for generating embeddings. For that, we join the article title and the first 1000 characters from the article text.

# select first 1000 characters
df["text"] = df["text"].str[:1000]
# join article title and the text
df["title_text"] = df["title"] + ". " + df["text"]

Initialize NER Model

To extract named entities, we will use a NER model finetuned on a BERT-base model. The model can be loaded from the HuggingFace model hub as follows:

import torch

# set device to GPU if available
device = torch.cuda.current_device() if torch.cuda.is_available() else None
from transformers import AutoTokenizer, AutoModelForTokenClassification
from transformers import pipeline

model_id = "dslim/bert-base-NER"

# load the tokenizer from huggingface
tokenizer = AutoTokenizer.from_pretrained(
# load the NER model from huggingface
model = AutoModelForTokenClassification.from_pretrained(
# load the tokenizer and model into a NER pipeline
nlp = pipeline(
text = "London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom"
# use the NER pipeline to extract named entities from the text
[{'entity_group': 'LOC',
  'score': 0.9996493,
  'word': 'London',
  'start': 0,
  'end': 6},
 {'entity_group': 'LOC',
  'score': 0.9997588,
  'word': 'England',
  'start': 25,
  'end': 32},
 {'entity_group': 'LOC',
  'score': 0.9993923,
  'word': 'United Kingdom',
  'start': 41,
  'end': 55}]

Our NER pipeline is working as expected and accurately extracting entities from the text.

Initialize Retriever

A retriever model is used to embed passages (article title + first 1000 characters) and queries. It creates embeddings such that queries and passages with similar meanings are close in the vector space. We will use a sentence-transformer model as our retriever. The model can be loaded as follows:

from sentence_transformers import SentenceTransformer

# load the model from huggingface
retriever = SentenceTransformer(

Initialize Pinecone Index

Now we need to initialize our Pinecone index. The Pinecone index stores vector representations of our passages which we can retrieve using another vector (the query vector). We first need to initialize our connection to Pinecone. For this, we need a free API key; you can find your environment in the Pinecone console under API Keys. We initialize the connection like so:

import pinecone

# connect to pinecone environment

Now we can create our vector index. We will name it ner-search (feel free to chose any name you prefer). We specify the metric type as cosine and dimension as 768 as these are the vector space and dimensionality of the vectors output by the retriever model.

index_name = "ner-search"

# check if the ner-search index exists
if index_name not in pinecone.list_indexes():
    # create the index if it does not exist

# connect to ner-search index we created
index = pinecone.Index(index_name)

Generate Embeddings and Upsert

We generate embeddings for the title_text column we created earlier. Alongside the embeddings, we also include the named entities in the index as metadata. Later we will apply a filter based on these named entities when executing queries.

Let's first write a helper function to extract named entities from a batch of text.

def extract_named_entities(text_batch):
    # extract named entities using the NER pipeline
    extracted_batch = nlp(text_batch)
    entities = []
    # loop through the results and only select the entity names
    for text in extracted_batch:
        ne = [entity["word"] for entity in text]
    return entities

Now we create the embeddings. We do this in batches of 64 to avoid overwhelming machine resources or API request limits.

from import tqdm

# we will use batches of 64
batch_size = 64

for i in tqdm(range(0, len(df), batch_size)):
    # find end of batch
    i_end = min(i+batch_size, len(df))
    # extract batch
    batch = df.iloc[i:i_end]
    # generate embeddings for batch
    emb = retriever.encode(batch["title_text"].tolist()).tolist()
    # extract named entities from the batch
    entities = extract_named_entities(batch["title_text"].tolist())
    # remove duplicate entities from each record
    batch["named_entities"] = [list(set(entity)) for entity in entities]
    batch = batch.drop('title_text', axis=1)
    # get metadata
    meta = batch.to_dict(orient="records")
    # create unique IDs
    ids = [f"{idx}" for idx in range(i, i_end)]
    # add all to upsert list
    to_upsert = list(zip(ids, emb, meta))
    # upsert/insert these records to pinecone
    _ = index.upsert(vectors=to_upsert)
# check that we have all vectors in index
  100%|██████████| 782/782 [58:24<00:00, 2.24it/s]

{'dimension': 768,
 'index_fullness': 0.1,
 'namespaces': {'': {'vector_count': 50000}},
 'total_vector_count': 50000}

Now we have indexed the articles and relevant metadata. We can move on to querying.


First, we will write a helper function to handle the queries.

from pprint import pprint

def search_pinecone(query):
    # extract named entities from the query
    ne = extract_named_entities([query])[0]
    # create embeddings for the query
    xq = retriever.encode(query).tolist()
    # query the pinecone index while applying named entity filter
    xc = index.query(xq, top_k=10, include_metadata=True, filter={"named_entities": {"$in": ne}})
    # extract article titles from the search result
    r = [x["metadata"]["title"] for x in xc["matches"]]
    return pprint({"Extracted Named Entities": ne, "Result": r})

Now try a query.

query = "What are the best places to visit in Greece?"
{'Extracted Named Entities': ['Greece'],
 'Result': ['Budget-Friendly Holidays: Visit The Best Summer Destinations In '
            'Greece | easyGuide',
            'Exploring Greece',
            'Santorini Island. The power of this volcanic island creates an '
            'energy that overwhelms the senses…',
            'All aboard to Greece: With lifting travel restrictions, what is '
            'the future of the Greek tourism industry?',
            'The Search for Best Villas in Greece for Rental Ends Here | '
            'Alasvillas | Greece',
            'Peripéteies in Greece — Week 31. Adventures in Greece as we '
            'pursue the…',
            '‘City of Waterfalls’ Home to Stunning Natural Scenery',
            'Skiathos — The small paradise in the Sporades, Greece.',
            'Greece has its own Dominic Cummings — and things are about to get '
            'One Must-Visit Attraction in Each of Europe’s Most Popular '
query = "What are the best places to visit in London?"
{'Extracted Named Entities': ['London'],
 'Result': ['Historical places to visit in London',
            'Never Die Without Seeing London-1',
            'London LOOP: walk all the way around the capital',
            'To London, In London',
            'You’ll never look at London the same way again after playing '
            'Pokemon GO',
            'Recommendation system to start a restaurant business in London',
            'Primrose and Regent’s Park London Walk — Portraits in the City',
            'Parliaments, picnics and social cleansing: a walk in London',
            'Universities’ role in building back London',
            'The Building of London']}
query = "Why does SpaceX want to build a city on Mars?"
{'Extracted Named Entities': ['SpaceX', 'Mars'],
 'Result': ['Elon Musk: First Mars City Will Take 1,000 Starships, 20 Years',
            'Elon Musk, SpaceX and NASA Are Taking The Second Step In The '
            'Direction Of Mars',
            'What is the SpaceX- Starship Mission? What is the SpaceX Mars '
            'There is a 100% chance of dying on Mars. Why Elon Musk’s plans '
            'are suicide for astronauts?',
            'The Mars Conundrum',
            'Tesla’s “Starman” or 2001’s “Star Child”—Which One Should Guide '
            'Our Species Into Space?',
            'Mars Habitat: NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge',
            'Reusable rockets and the robots at sea: The SpaceX story',
            'Mars Is Overrated and Going There Isn’t Progress']}

These all look like great results, making the most of Pinecone's advanced vector search capabilities while limiting search scope to relevant records only with a named entity filter.