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1948: Said to be the world's fastest calculator. Photo: Keystone / Staff / Getty

For several years, one of the greatest fears of the world's legacy companies has been disruption by an Uber or Airbnb — an adroit new startup with a cheap, market-shattering idea. But a surprising new reality led by the confluence of big data and artificial intelligence has softened their anxiety, and made them think they — and not startups — are the new, new thing, according to a new study.  

Quick take: If the study — by IBM and Oxford Economics, a commercial arm of Oxford University — is right, publicly traded legacy companies in numerous industries may be on the cusp of a boom in value.

According to the study, based on interviews with 12,854 C-suite executives in 112 countries across 20 industries, 72% said that, if their sector is disrupted, it will be by old hands such as themselves. Just 22% said a small company or startup would be responsible for such a shakeup.

  • "It talks to a confidence different from the past, when the assumption was that disruption was all coming from small, nimble startups that were going to break up basic business models," Mark Foster, a senior vice president at IBM, told Axios. "Now its more a case of they are fighting back."

The big difference is data: The prevailing wisdom is that companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have vacuumed up the majority of the world's commercializable data. But, according to the study, such Big Tech companies control only about 20% of it.

  • Instead, far older incumbents like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Bank of America and the UK's Santander own about 80% of the world's data, the study said.
  • "Your bank has records on you going back since you started banking with them," Foster said. "They know a lot more about you than Google or Linked in are going to scrape from the Web."
  • "And they will combine their own information with external information that's on the Web, like likes and dislikes," he said.

A crucial fact: There is a more level tech playing field.

  • AI — the key enabling technology for commercializing this data — is available to everyone and monopolized by no single or group of companies. No single company is in control of AI.
  • Therefore, incumbent companies can build platforms customized for their own industries, and, using AI, can monetize their proprietary data, the study said.

This does not mean Big Tech is in trouble, the study said.

Amazon, for instance, will continue to be a threat to the industries it is preying on, "but there will be more competition going forward," Foster said.

Go deeper: IBM presents the study live in Barcelona at 9:45 am EST today.

Go deeper

Updated 13 mins ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Katie Ledecky in Tokyo. Photo: Ding Xu/Xinhua via Getty Images

🛑: Simone Biles won't compete in individual vault or uneven bars

🏊‍♀️: Katie Ledecky wins gold in women's 800m freestyle

🏊: Caeleb Dressel breaks world record in men's 100m butterfly, 3rd gold

🗓: The Olympic events to watch today

🇬🇧: Britain wins gold in first-ever Olympic mixed 4x100m medley relay

🎾: Novak Djokovic defeated in Olympic semi-finals

💻: Japan tests teleporting games and "remote cheering"

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

Simone Biles won't compete in individual vault or uneven bars Olympic finals

Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Simone Biles will not compete in the individual vault or uneven bars finals at the Tokyo Olympics, USA Gymnastics announced Friday.

Why it matters: USA Gymnastics said Biles, who previously withdrew from the individual all-around and team finals to prioritize her mental health, will continue to be evaluated to determine if she'll compete in the balance beam or floor exercise events.

2 hours ago - Sports

American Katie Ledecky wins Olympic gold in women's 800m freestyle

USA's Katie Ledecky reacts after taking gold in the final of the women's 800m freestyle race. Photo: Odd Anderson/AFP via Getty Images

American superstar swimmer Katie Ledecky grabbed her second gold medal of this year's Olympic Games, winning the women's 800-meter freestyle race Saturday in Tokyo.

Driving the news: Ledecky, who holds the world record in the 800m freestyle, is considered one of the best women swimmers of all time. Saturday's final marks her third straight Olympic gold in the event.