I think you don't understand history at all. AT&T's investors DID insist on profit, and as a monopoly, AT&T delivered massive profits. AT&T didn't develop the transistor out of a sense of altruism or out of any notion of basic research. The transistor was developed partly to solve a very specific problem in the phone system. Undersea cables needed amplifiers and repeaters. Before the transistor, those components were vacuum tube based. You see the problem with respect to durability when you drop the things a mile beneath the surface of the ocean? So, AT&T had a very specific application in mind for the transistor while it was under development. The story is similar with improvements on the laser (which was not invented at Bell Labs, by the way). The ability to replace heavy, expensive, bulky copper with thin, light glass fiber drove that work.
The point is that the work you cite was driven by compelling business cases -- the R&D was going to pay for itself many times over, and that was known in advance. Now, contrast that with Watson.