The latest news from the fast-evolving world of the Data Economy:
Making it to the "Jeopardy!" stage even for the elite among trivia buffs isn't easy. Each year, hordes of self-proclaimed quiz whizzes head to LA to sit in an auditorium as Alex Trebek's face looms over them on a video screen and they prepare to take the infamous "Jeopardy!" weeding exam—just to get a shot at appearing on the actual program. Many try; few make it to the next step. I've known people to get 47 out of 50 questions right and still not make it on air.
But at least they didn't have to face IBM's Watson, the computing system that took all the fun out of Audio Daily Doubles—and all things answered in the form of a question—by notching one more win for machine over man a few years back. It beat every human to the clicker with a machine-generated question when responding to Alex's answers.
Now it's on to bigger, but possibly littler, things for Watson, which has been put to use in sectors, including health care, since his diva turn on "Jeopardy!" IBM's move to make what one IBM executive called Big Blue's "most prized possession" more widely available so you can use it as part of your next "killer app" comes amid intense competition from big technology firms to bring supercomputer power to the masses.
Or, as Alex Trebek might say, referring to the "Potent Processors" category: "The fight to control the world of cloud computing."
Answer: "What is IBM's strategy to make Watson more widely available as other tech giants, such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, pursue similar "power to the people" profit strategies?"
And for those who fail to make it onto "Jeopardy!" to face Watson, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or CNBC's David Faber, at least now they can stand side by side with Watson and get the machine to work for them. IBM's Stephen Gold, vice president of Watson Solutions, told Bloomberg, "Watson can be this ultimate assistant to help individuals get their questions answered"—in the form of a question, of course.
(Read more: 10 strangest data findings you need to know)
Bad earnings? Blame Snowden
Corporations find all sorts of reasons to blame earnings misses on factors other than their mismanagement and failed strategic execution. Bad weather, governments—whatever it takes. Now we have the first-ever use of the surveillance state as an explanation for underperformance.
Cisco this week became one of the first companies to say publicly that its sales were down as a direct result of the NSA disclosures. The issue is whether overseas clients are reluctant to buy Cisco's telecommunications equipment for fear that the organization would gain access to their systems. Cisco CEO John Chambers, when asked whether the allegations had caused a slump in Cisco's emerging market business, said, "It is [having] an impact in China."
"I think we're all aware of that," said Robert Lloyd, Cisco's president of development and sales. "It's certainly causing people to stop and then rethink decisions. And that is, I think, reflected in our results."
In an October filing, eBay said Edward Snowden leaks could lead European countries to impose tighter regulations that might harm its business.
(Read more: The brand-name marriages coming to Facebook)
Trust your auditor to run a venture fund?
KPMG launched this past week what is thought to be the first investment fund established by a major accounting company. The theme: big data, of course. Who doesn't want in on that bandwagon? The $100 million fund, called KPMG Capital, will invest in data analytics and big data technologies. Mark Toon, CEO of KPMG Capital, said, "KPMG Capital will enable us to develop or acquire opportunities in D&A [data and analysis] quickly. ... We aim to accelerate innovation in D&A to bring potential solutions to clients—and to the market—faster. ... With more data produced and stored in the last two years than in the rest of human history, many businesses are looking for strategic and practical solutions to manage the volume, velocity and variety of this data revolution."
Show the CIA the money
Speaking of passing around the surveillance state blame, the NSA is reportedly getting a run for its invasive, legally fraught money by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA is bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union—including transactions into and out of the United States—under the same law that the NSA uses for its huge database of Americans' phone records, current and former government officials told the New York Times.
It's one more little-known aspect of the Patriot Act that may yet make its way into an Edward Snowden–provided PowerPoint slide showing how your PayPal and Amazon transactions may yet raise an eyebrow in the nation's capital.
Revenge is a dish best served in code
Revenge is sweet, as the saying goes, and when meted out by Silicon Valley, very nerdy. The era of the "supercode" has arrived, with tech giants, including Google, Facebook and Yahoo!, fighting back against the NSA's tapping of their data by investing in and developing codes that will protect their customers not just from malicious hackers but governments. Companies are using increasingly complex encryption to protect emails, Internet searches and digital calls, Bloomberg reported.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is busy fighting on other fronts. It has opened its multimillion-dollar Cybercrime Center, a 16,800-square-foot facility that is both a crime-fighting headquarters and Microsoft technology showroom. "As the cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, our abilities are getting more sophisticated," David Finn, associate general counsel of Microsoft's digital-crimes unit, told the Seattle Times during a tour of the facility Thursday.
Yahoo's least-prized possession?
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been very busy since taking the helm—from buying Tumblr for a billion to lounging by the pool for a glossy magazine photo spread. All in a day's work for an old-guard-of-tech-turnaround candidate. And Mayer will seemingly leave none of Yahoo's past unexamined: Yahoo started a week-long auction this past Thursday to rid itself of its more than 100 "premium domain names."
Of the domain names currently listed, prices range from $1,000 to $1.5 million. For you aspiring Internet pornography entrepreneurs, maybe one of Yahoo's "premium" site names, pleasure.com, will be of interest.
When all else fails (and much of it has when it's come from Redmond, Wash.), Microsoft at least has the reliable office market willing to continue to watch its PCs freeze and crash and do all sorts of annoying things within the latest Microsoft operating system. But is even that cash cow the next major problem for the Bill Gates empire?
Apple—once the domain of graphic designers and artsy office types of all stripes, but no accountants or risk managers—is pushing into the business market and finding success. In North America 18 percent of employees said they use an Apple device for work, according to Forrester data. Just a few years ago that number was more in the 3 percent range. "Apple is moving into the enterprise in a dramatic way, mostly with iPhones and iPads. It's not dominating in computers yet, but it's certainly growing," said Ted Schadler, a Forrester analyst.
The future of big data? Consider this premise: Premise, the start-up, created a smartphone application that is now used by 700 people in 25 developing countries. David Soloff's company allows college students and homemakers to photograph food and goods in public markets, according to a New York Times report. With all of that visual information, Premise is building a real-time global inflation index to sell to companies and Wall Street traders.
"Within five years I'd like to have 3,000 or 4,000 people doing this," Soloff told the Times.
Big data, meet hyper data.
—By Eric Rosenbaum, CNBC.com