FORTUNE Editor Alan Murray is on vacation for the next two weeks. Today, Clifton Leaf, Fortune’s Deputy Editor, is bringing breakfast.
Readers of a certain age—as well as fans of campy 1980s “rock musical horror comedy films” (Thank you, Wikipedia)—may remember a certain insatiable plant who cried out, “Feeeeed me…!” Well, if they ever remake “Little Shop of Horrors,” they might want to recast the plant as Watson, IBM’s ever-hungry cognitive computing wizard, which just yesterday got served up a monster meal of data.
Supper, in this case, came in the form of Merge Healthcare, a company whose software processes and stores medical images like X-rays and CT scans, and which IBM swallowed up for $1 billion. That followed several feedings in the spring—when Big Blue bought a company called Explorys, which had amassed a staggeringly large data set from millions of medical records and 317,000 healthcare providers, and when it purchased another health data company called Phytel…and when it said it would snack on data from an untold number of Apple devices in a new partnership.
That’s the thing about overgrown artificially intelligent supercomputers. Those suckers like to eat. Which brings us into the picture—and by “us” I mean the not-so-artificially intelligent beings who provide all this feedstock. Collectively speaking, these are our medical records, after all. Our heart rates and sleep cycles and steps taken in a day. Even when the data points are anonymized—stripped from the identifiers that identify us individually—they are bits and bytes that point to our biology: our cholesterol levels, our genes and gene mutations, our outcomes in clinical trials.
Amazingly, though, there has been little resistance to handing it over. Many of us now volunteer to surrender our fitness-tracking data, generated by the ream on smartphone apps and Apple Watches and Fitbits. “We’re all suddenly willing guinea pigs,” says Matt Stempeck, the 31-year-old director of civic technology at Microsoft, a position that didn’t exist a year ago. “We all want to be part of the experiment these days.”
Almost by definition, the class of early tech-adopters is more trusting of technology’s ability to help, and less fearful of its capacity to harm. And the widespread hope (and probably belief) is that these exabytes of human experience will lead to cures of disease, better medical technology, and earlier detection of illness. “It feels like a very small thing to do to contribute to research that might help a lot of people—especially with something like a wearable,” says Stempeck, who landed at Microsoft after a stint at the prestigious MIT Media Lab and freelancing on Google’s social impact team. “We’re basically trusting that the people sharing our data will do so in an ethical way that will protect our privacy,” he says—and besides: “Younger generations are sort of used to the idea that all our stuff is out there anyway, whether it’s Facebook or the NSA.”
Sharing data, indeed, has become the new philanthropy—a social contract for the Millennial Age. And who knows? It just may be the most powerful thing to emerge from the sharing economy.
Below, your Friday serving of news.
• The GOP debate’s business moments
Republican presidential candidates offered up insight into their views on taxes, health care and entitlements in their first primary debate for the 2016 election, all key talking points for corporate executives to monitor. Among the topics to come up: Donald Trump’s use of corporate bankruptcy four times, several plans to change tax rules, the reform of social services, and new ways to approach health care. Fortune
• Job gains could favor rate hike
Economists are expecting a jobs report due later this morning to show that U.S. nonfarm payrolls increased by 223,000 in July, a number that would be slightly above the monthly average for the first half of 2015. And some economists are saying such steady growth should further bolster the Federal Reserve’s confidence in the economy, and thus potentially incentivize an interest rate increase in September. Reuters
• Energy firms can’t turn off the tap
American oil pumpers need to cut their output by at least 500,000 barrels a day to stem the oversupply that has sent oil prices sliding over the past 14 months to just over $45 a barrel. But oil production remains stubbornly high, and energy producers including Devon Energy and Whiting Petroleum have said they are pulling record amounts of oil from the ground. Instead of cutting back, many are looking for ways to drill wells faster and cheaper to turn a profit at lower prices. WSJ (subscription required)
• EU cyber security law could impact tech
An upcoming cybersecurity law brought on by the European Union could see tech giants like Google, Cisco and Amazon having to comply with strict security requirements, including having to report data breaches to governments that are part of the EU. This directive comes at a time when countries like Russia and China have created their own cybersecurity laws that could potentially impact the way foreign web companies conduct business outside their home turf. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Apple hurting U.S. watch sales
Times are certainly looking tough for the traditional watch industry. U.S. watch sales fell the most in seven years in June, a sign that the Apple Watch has gained significant enough penetration to drastically hurt watches in the fashion categories. Unit sales were down 14%, while sales slipped 11% to $375 million during the month. NPD Group said watches that cost less than $1,000 were the most at risk, as consumers shopping for accessories in that range indicated they’re the most likely to buy an Apple Watch. Bloomberg
• The CEOs paid less than their workers
There are three current CEOs of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that are paid less than their company’s median employee pay, according to a recent analysis of CEO pay data and employee compensation. They are: Kosta Kartsotis at Fossil, Lawrence Page at Google and John Mackey at Whole Foods. The interest in pay gap comes after the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week approved a new rule that forces U.S. firms to detail the gap between what CEOs are paid and what the median employee receives. USA Today
• The never-ending AIG lawsuit
There is a long-running lawsuit involving two former American International Group executives that has spanned two U.S. presidencies and could extend into a third, as it looks like there is no end, or even a trial, in sight. The case involves a civil lawsuit first filed in 2005 against AIG’s former CEO Maurice R. Greenberg, accusing him and another executive of accounting fraud. Litigator David Boies said it has been the second longest out of some 85 significant court cases he has litigated. New York Times (subscription service)
5 things to know today
GOP debate and July jobs — 5 things to know today. Today’s story can be found here.