Scalable Zero-shot Entity Linking with Dense Entity Retrieval

Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)


This paper introduces a conceptually simple, scalable, and highly effective BERT-based entity linking model, along with an extensive evaluation of its accuracy-speed trade-off. We present a two-stage zero-shot linking algorithm, where each entity is defined only by a short textual description. The first stage does retrieval in a dense space defined by a bi-encoder that independently embeds the mention context and the entity descriptions. Each candidate is then re-ranked with a crossencoder, that concatenates the mention and entity text. Experiments demonstrate that this approach is state of the art on recent zeroshot benchmarks (6 point absolute gains) and also on more established non-zero-shot evaluations (e.g. TACKBP-2010), despite its relative simplicity (e.g. no explicit entity embeddings or manually engineered mention tables). We also show that bi-encoder linking is very fast with nearest neighbour search (e.g. linking with 5.9 million candidates in 2 milliseconds), and that much of the accuracy gain from the more expensive crossencoder can be transferred to the bi-encoder via knowledge distillation. Our code and models are available at

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