Curio is raising money for Rio, an 'AI news anchor' in an app

AI could find its way into the newsroom, as the media wants Newsweek, Sports illustrated, Gizmodo, Venture Beat, CNET and others have experimented with articles written by AI. But while most respectable journalists will condemn this use case, there are a number of startups that think AI can improve the news experience – at least on the consumer side. The newest entrant to the battle is Rioan “AI news anchor” designed to help readers connect with the stories and topics they are most interested in, from trusted sources.

The new app, from the same team behind AI-powered audio journalism startup Curio, was first unveiled last month at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. It has raised funding from Khosla Ventures and the head of TED, Chris Anderson, who also supported Curio. (The startup says the round hasn't closed yet, so can't disclose the amount.)

Curio itself was founded in 2016 by ex-BBC strategist Govind Balakrishnan and London lawyer Srikant Chakravarti; Rio is a new effort that will expand the use of Curio's AI technology.

First developed as a feature within the Curio app, Rio scans headlines from trusted newspapers and magazines like Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Washington Post and others, then curates that content into a daily news briefing that you can read or listen to.

Additionally, the team says Rio will ensure users don't find themselves in an echo chamber by seeking out news that broadens their understanding of topics and encourages them to dive deeper.

Image credits: Curiosities/Rio

In tests, Rio prepared a daily briefing, presented in a kind of story-like interface with images and links to news articles that you could tap at the bottom of the screen and it would narrate the article using an AI voice. (To be clear, these were full articles, not AI summaries.) You scroll through headlines the same way you would tap through a story on a social media app like Instagram.

Curio says Rio's AI technology will not fabricate information and will only reference content from trusted publishing partners. Rio will not use publishers' content to train an LLM (major language model) without “explicit permission,” it says.

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Image credits: Curiosities/Rio

In addition to the briefing, you can also interact with Rio in an AI chatbot interface where you can ask questions about other topics of interest. Suggested topics – like 'TikTok ban' or 'Ukraine war' for example – appear as small pills above the text input box. We found the AI ​​to be a little slow to respond at times, but otherwise performed as expected.

Additionally, Rio offers to create an audio episode for your questions if you would like to learn more.

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Co-founder Balakrishnan said Curio users had asked Rio more than 20,000 questions since it launched as a feature in Curio last May. That is why the company decided to incorporate the technology into its own app.

“AI makes us all wonder what is true and what is not. You can scan AI sites for quick answers, but blindly trusting them is a bit of a gamble,” Chakravarti said in a statement around Rio's debut at SXSW. “Reliable knowledge is difficult to obtain. Only a lucky few get access to fact-checked, verified information. Rio guides you through the news and turns everyday headlines from trusted sources into knowledge. When you check the news with Rio, you feel satisfied instead of sad.

It's hard to say whether Rio will be persistent enough to demand its standalone product, but it's easy to imagine an interface like this coming to larger news aggregators at some point, like Google News or Apple News perhaps, or even to individual publisher sites. In the meantime, Curio will also continue its focus on audio news.

Curio isn't the only startup using AI to improve the news reading experience. Former Twitter engineers build Particle, an AI-powered news reader, backed by $4.4 million. Another AI-powered news app, Bulletin, was also launched to tackle clickbait and provide news summaries. Artefact had also used AI before moving to JS's parent company, Yahoo.

Rio currently has early access, which means you need an invite to enter. Otherwise, you can join the app's waiting list at rionews.ai. The company tells us it plans to launch publicly later this summer. (As a reward for reading the whole thing, the five of you can use it my own invite link to get in.)

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