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Enhancing RAG with a Multi-Agent System

Last Update: April 6, 2024
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Multi-Agent RAG

Retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) has shown great promise for powering conversational AI. However, in most RAG systems today, a single model handles the full workflow of query analysis, passage retrieval, contextual ranking, summarization, and prompt augmentation. This results in suboptimal relevance, latency, and coherence. A multi-agent architecture that factors responsibilities across specialized retrieval, ranking, reading, and orchestration agents, operating asynchronously, allows each agent to focus on its specialized capability using custom models and data. Multi-agent RAG is thus able to improve relevance, latency, and coherence overall.

While multi-agent RAG is not a panacea – for simpler conversational tasks a single RAG agent may suffice – multi-agent RAG outperforms single agent RAG when your use case requires reasoning over diverse information sources. This article explores a multi-agent RAG architecture and quantifies its benefits.

RAG Challenges and Opportunities

Retrieval augmented generation faces several key challenges that limit its performance in real-world applications.

First, existing retrieval mechanisms struggle to identify the most relevant passages from corpora containing millions of documents. Simple similarity functions often return superfluous or tangential results. When retrieval fails to return the most relevant information, it leads to suboptimal prompting.

Second, retrieving supplementary information introduces latency; if the database is large, this latency can be prohibitive. Searching terabytes of text with complex ranking creates wait times that are too long for consumer applications.

In addition, current RAG systems fail to appropriately weight the original prompt and retrieved passages. Without dynamic contextual weighting, the model can become over-reliant on retrievals (resulting in reduced control or adaptablity in generating meaningful responses).

Multi-agent RAGs address real-world challenges

Specialized agents with divided responsibilities can help address the challenges that plague single-agent architectures, and unlock RAG's full potential. By factoring RAG into separable subtasks executed concurrently by collaborative and specialized query understanding, retriever, ranker, reader, and orchestrator agents, multi-agent RAG can mitigate single-agent RAG's relevance, scalability, and latency limitations. This allows RAG to scale efficiently to enterprise workloads.

Let's break multi-agent RAG into its parts:

First, a query understanding / parsing agent comprehends the query, breaking it down and describing it in different sub-queries.

Then x number of retriever agents, each utilizing optimized vector indices, focus solely on efficient passage retrieval from the document corpus, based on the sub-queries. These retriever agents employ vector similarity search or knowledge graph retrieval-based searches to quickly find potentially relevant passages, minimizing latency even when document corpora are large.

The ranker agent evaluates the relevance of the retrieved passages using additional ranking signals like source credibility, passage specificity, and lexical overlap. This provides a relevance-based filtering step. This agent might be using ontology, for example, as a way to rerank retrieved information.

The reader agent summarizes lengthy retrieved passages into succinct snippets containing only the most salient information. This distills the context down to key facts.

Finally, the orchestrator agent dynamically adjusts the relevance weighting and integration of the prompt and filtered, ranked context passages (i.e., prompt hybridization) to maximize coherence in the final augmented prompt.

Benefits of multi-agent RAG architecture

  • Agent-specific, focused specialization improves relevance and quality. Retriever agents leverage tailored similarity metrics, rankers weigh signals like source credibility, and readers summarize context.
  • Asynchronous operation reduces latency by parallelizing retrieval. Slow operations don't block faster ones.
  • Salient extraction and abstraction techniques achieve better summarization. Reader agents condense complex information from retrieved passages into concise, coherent, highly informative summaries.
  • Prompt hybridization achieves optimized prompting. Orchestrator agents balance prompt and ranked context data for more coherent outcome prompts.
  • Flexible, modular architecture enables easy horizontal scaling and optional incorporation of new data sources. You can enhance iteratively over time by adding more agents (e.g., a visualizer agent to inspect system behavior), or substituting alternative implementations of any agent.

Let's look at an implementation of multi-agent RAG, and then look under the hood of the agents that make up multi-agent RAG, examining their logic, sequence, and possible optimizations.

Example with AutoGen library

Before going into the code snippet below from the Microsoft AutoGen library, some explanation of terms:

  1. AssistantAgent: The AssistantAgent is given a name, a system message, and a configuration object (llm_config). The system message is a string that describes the role of the agent. The llm_config object is a dictionary that contains functions for the agent to perform its role.

  2. user_proxy is an instance of UserProxyAgent. It is given a name and several configuration options. The is_termination_msg option is a function that determines when the user wants to terminate the conversation. The human_input_mode option is set to "NEVER", which means the agent will never ask for input from a human. The max_consecutive_auto_reply option is set to 10, which means the agent will automatically reply to up to 10 consecutive messages without input from a human. The code_execution_config option is a dictionary that contains configuration options for executing code.

llm_config = { "understand_query": mock_understand_query, "retrieve_passages": mock_retrieve_passages, "rank_passages": mock_rank_passages, "summarize_passages": mock_summarize_passages, "adjust_weighting": mock_adjust_weighting, } boss = autogen.UserProxyAgent( name="Boss", is_termination_msg=termination_msg, human_input_mode="TERMINATE", system_message="The boss who ask questions and give tasks.", code_execution_config=False, # we don't want to execute code in this case. )

Possible Optimizations

The QueryUnderstandingAgent

  1. A query is received by the QueryUnderstandingAgent.
  2. The agent checks if it is a long question using logic like word count, presence of multiple question marks, etc.
  3. If the query is a long question, the GuidanceQuestionGenerator breaks it into shorter sub-questions. For example, “What is the capital of France and what is the population?” is broken into “What is the capital of France?” and “What is the population of France?”
  4. These sub-questions are then passed to the QueryRouter one by one.
  5. The QueryRouter checks each sub-question against a set of predefined routing rules and cases to determine which query engine it should go to.
# QueryUnderstandingAgent query_understanding_agent = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="query_understanding_agent", system_message="You must use X function. You are only here to understand queries. You intervene First.", llm_config=llm_config )

The goal of the QueryUnderstandingAgent is to check each subquery and determine which retriever agent is best suited to handle it based on the database schema matching. For example, some subqueries may be better served by a vector database, and others by a knowledge graph database.

To implement the QueryUnderstandingAgent, we can create a SubqueryRouter component, which takes in two retriever agents — a VectorRetrieverAgent and a KnowledgeGraphRetrieverAgent.

When a subquery needs to be routed, the SubqueryRouter will check to see if the subquery matches the schema of the vector database using some keyword or metadata matching logic. If there is a match, it will return the VectorRetrieverAgent to handle the subquery. If there is no match for the vector database, the SubqueryRouter will next check if the subquery matches the schema of the knowledge graph database. If so, it will return the KnowledgeGraphRetrieverAgent instead.

The SubqueryRouter acts like a dispatcher, distributing subquery work to the optimal retriever agent. This way, each retriever agent can focus on efficiently retrieving results from its respective databases without worrying about handling all subquery types.

This multi-agent modularity makes it easy to add more specialized retriever agents as needed for different databases or data sources.

General Flow

  1. The query starts at the “Long Question?” decision point, per above.
  2. If ‘Yes’, the query is broken into sub-questions and then sent to various query engines.
  3. If ‘No’, the query moves to the main routing logic, which routes the query based on specific cases, or defaults to a fallback strategy.
  4. Once an engine returns a satisfactory answer, the process ends; otherwise, fallbacks are tried.

The Retriever Agents

We can create multiple retriever agents, each focused on efficient retrieval from a specific data source or using a particular technique. For example:

  • VectorDBRetrieverAgent: Retrieves passages using vector similarity search on an indexed document corpus.
  • WikipediaRetrieverAgent: Retrieves relevant Wikipedia passages.
  • KnowledgeGraphRetriever: Uses knowledge graph retrieval.

When subqueries are generated, we assign each one to the optimal retriever agent based on its content and the agent capabilities. For example, a fact-based subquery may go to the KnowledgeGraphRetriever, while a broader subquery could use the VectorDBRetrieverAgent.

retriever_agent_vector = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="retriever_agent_vector", system_message="You must use Y function. You are only here to retrieve passages using vector search. You intervene at the same time as other Retriever agents.", llm_config=llm_config_vector ) retriever_agent_kg = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="retriever_agent_kg", system_message="You must use Z function. You are only here to retrieve passages using knowledge graph. You intervene at the same time as other Retriever agents.", llm_config=llm_config_kg ) retriever_agent_sql = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="retriever_agent_sql", system_message="You must use A function. You are only here to retrieve passages using SQL. You intervene at the same time as other Retriever agents.", llm_config=llm_config_sql )

To enable asynchronous retrieval, we use Python’s asyncio framework. When subqueries are available, we create asyncio tasks to run the assigned retriever agent for each subquery concurrently.

For example:

retrieval_tasks = [] for subquery in subqueries: agent = assign_agent(subquery) task = asyncio.create_task(agent.retrieve(subquery)) retrieval_tasks.append(task) await asyncio.gather(*retrieval_tasks)

This allows all retriever agents to work in parallel instead of waiting for each one to finish before moving on to the next. Asynchronous retrieval returns passages far more quickly than single-agent retrieval.

The results from each agent can then be merged and ranked for the next stages.

The Ranker Agent

The ranker agents in a multi-agent retrieval system can be specialized using different ranking tools and techniques:

  • Fine-tune on domain-specific data using datasets like MS MARCO or self-supervised data from the target corpus. This allows learning representations tailored to ranking documents for the specific domain.
  • Use cross-encoder models like SBERT trained extensively on passage ranking tasks as a base. Cross-encoder models capture nuanced relevance between queries and documents.
  • Employ dense encoding models like DPR to leverage dual-encoder search through the vector space when ranking a large set of candidates.
  • For efficiency, use approximate nearest neighbor algorithms like HNSW when finding top candidates from a large corpus.
  • Apply re-ranking with cross-encoders after initial fast dense retrieval – for greater accuracy in ranking the top results.
  • Exploit metadata like document freshness, author credibility, keywords, etc. to customize ranking based on query context.
  • Use learned models like LambdaRank to optimize the ideal combination of ranking signals.
  • Specialize different ranker agents, respectively, on particular types of queries where they perform best, selected dynamically.
  • Implement ensemble ranking approaches to combine multiple underlying rankers/signals efficiently.
# RankerAgent ranker_agent = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="ranker_agent", system_message="You must use B function. You are only here to rank passages. You intervene in third position. ", llm_config=llm_config )

To optimize accuracy, speed, and customization in your ranker agents, you need to identify which specialized techniques enhance ranking performance in which scenarios, then use them to configure your ranker agents accordingly.

The Reader Agent

To optimize your reader agent, we recommend that you:

  • Use Claude 2 as the base model for the ReaderAgent; leverage its long context abilities for summarization. Fine-tune Claude 2 further on domain-specific summarization data.
  • Implement a ToolComponent that wraps access to a knowledge graph containing summarization methodologies — things like identifying key entities, events, detecting redundancy, etc.

By taking the above steps, you can ensure that:

  • When the ReaderAgent’s run method takes the lengthy passage as input, the ReaderAgent generates a prompt for Claude 2, combining the passage and a methodology retrieval call to the KG tool, to arrive at the optimal approach for summarizing the content.
  • Claude 2 processes this augmented prompt to produce a concise summary, extracting the key information.
  • As a final step, the summary is returned.
# ReaderAgent reader_agent = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="reader_agent", system_message="You must use C function. You are only here to summarize passages. You intervene in fourth position. ", llm_config=llm_config )

The Orchestrator Agent

# OrchestratorAgent orchestrator_agent = autogen.AssistantAgent( name="orchestrator_agent", system_message="You must use D function. You are only here to adjust weighting. You intervene in last position.", llm_config=llm_config )

The OrchestratorAgent can leverage structured knowledge and symbolic methods to complement LLM reasoning where appropriate and produce answers that are highly accurate, contextual, and explainable. We recommend that you:

  1. Maintain a knowledge graph containing key entities, relations, and facts extracted from the documents. Use this to verify the factual accuracy of answers.
  2. Implement logic to check the final answer against known facts and rules in the knowledge graph. Flag inconsistencies for the LLMs to re-reason.
  3. Enable the OrchestratorAgent to ask clarifying questions to the ReaderAgent (i.e., solicit additional context) in the event that answers contradict the knowledge graph.
  4. Use the knowledge graph to identify and add additional context (entities and events) related to concepts in the user query and final answer.
  5. Generate concise explanations to justify the reasoning alongside (in parallel to) the final answer, using knowledge graph relations and LLM semantics.
  6. Analyze past answer reasoning patterns to identify common anomalies, biases, and fallacies, to continuously fine-tune the LLM reasoning, and improve final answer quality.
  7. Codify appropriate levels of answer certainty and entailment for different query types based on knowledge graph data analysis.
  8. Maintain provenance of answer generations to incrementally improve reasoning over time via knowledge graph and LLM feedback.

Finally, to facilitate communication and interactions among the participating agents, you need to create a group chat:

# Create a group chat with all agents chat = GroupChat( agents = [user, retriever_agent, ranker_agent, reader_agent, orchestrator_agent] ) # Run the chat manager = GroupChatManager(chat) manager.run()

Benefits of Specialized Agents

The proposed multi-agent RAG architecture delivers significant benefits in conversational AI, compared to single-agent RAG systems:

  • By dedicating an agent solely to passage retrieval, you can employ more advanced and efficient search algorithms, prefetching passages in parallel across the corpus, improving overall latency.
  • Using a ranker agent specialized in evaluating relevance improves retrieval precision. By filtering out lower quality hits, model prompting stays focused on pertinent information.
  • Summarization by the reader agent distills long text into concise snippets containing only the most salient facts. This prevents prompt dilution and improves coherence.
  • Dynamic context weighting by the orchestrator agent minimizes chances of the model ignoring the original prompt or becoming overly reliant on retrieved information.
  • Specialized agents make your RAG system more scalable and flexible. Agents can be upgraded independently, and additional agents added to extend capabilities.

Overall, the multi-agent factored RAG system demonstrates substantial improvements in appropriateness, coherence, reasoning, and correctness over single-agent RAG baselines.


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