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Why LLMs for Search Might Not Be the Best Idea

Large Language Models (LLMs) have taken the world of artificial intelligence by storm, showcasing impressive capabilities in text comprehension and generation. However, as with any technology, it's essential to understand its strengths and limitations. When it comes to search functionality, relying solely on LLMs might not be the best approach. Let's explore why.

Understanding LLMs: Strengths and Weaknesses

LLMs, like OpenAI's GPT series, are trained on vast amounts of text data, enabling them to generate human-like text based on patterns they've learned. Their prowess lies in understanding context, generating coherent narratives, and even answering questions based on the information they've been trained on.

However, one area where LLMs falter is text retrieval. While they can comprehend and generate text, they aren't inherently designed to search and fetch specific data from vast databases efficiently. This limitation becomes evident when we consider using LLMs for search purposes.

The Challenges of Using LLM for Search

  1. Porting the Full Index into LLM: To make an LLM effective for search, one approach would be to port the entire index or database into the model. This means that the LLM would have to be retrained with the specific data from the index, allowing it to generate search results based on that data. However, this process is both time-consuming and expensive. Training an LLM is not a trivial task; it requires vast computational resources and expertise.
  1. Exposing the Entire Index at Query Time: An alternative to porting the index into the LLM is to expose the entire index or database at the time of the query. This would mean that every time a search query is made, the LLM would sift through the entire database to generate a response. Not only is this approach inefficient, but it also places immense strain on computational resources, especially when dealing with large databases.
  1. High Computational Demands: Both of the above approaches are compute-heavy. LLMs, especially the more advanced versions, require significant GPU infrastructure to operate efficiently. When used for search, these demands multiply, leading to increased operational costs. For businesses or platforms that experience high search volumes, this could translate to unsustainable expenses.

A More Balanced Approach: The Case for raLLM

Given the challenges associated with using LLMs for search, it's clear that a more nuanced approach is needed. This is where Retrieval Augmented LLMs (raLLM) come into play.

raLLM combines the strengths of LLMs with those of traditional information retrieval systems. While the LLM component ensures coherent and contextually relevant text generation, the information retrieval system efficiently fetches specific data from vast databases.

By integrating these two technologies, raLLM offers a solution that is both efficient and effective. Search queries are processed using the information retrieval system, ensuring speed and accuracy, while the LLM component can be used to provide detailed explanations or context around the search results when necessary.

This hybrid approach addresses the limitations of using LLMs for search. It reduces the computational demands by leveraging the strengths of both technologies where they are most effective. Moreover, it eliminates the need to port the entire index into the LLM or expose it at query time, ensuring a more streamlined and cost-effective search process.


While Large Language Models have revolutionized many aspects of artificial intelligence, it's crucial to recognize their limitations. Using LLMs for search, given their current design and capabilities, presents challenges that can lead to inefficiencies and increased operational costs.

However, the evolution of AI is marked by continuous innovation and adaptation. The development of solutions like raLLM showcases the industry's commitment to addressing challenges and optimizing performance. By combining the strengths of LLMs with traditional information retrieval systems, we can harness the power of AI for search in a more balanced and efficient manner.

Oh, and you may test a raLLM yourself: Get going with SquirroGPT.

Dorian Selz
Post By Dorian Selz December 5, 2023

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