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The semiconductor industry has been responsible for initiating a new phase in the world's economic and industrial development. For more than two decades, average price (and cost) per function has decreased by 30%, industry growth has averaged nearly 20% per year. Each year more memory bits are sold than in all the previous years added together. In the 35 years since the birth of the transistor, the semiconductor industry has undergone several phases. In the 1960s there was the integrated circuit, which, in turn, spawned the memory and microprocessor revolution of the 1970s. Until the 1980s the semiconductor industry had been dominated by standard parts, albeit of ever increasing complexity. In the 1980s, the electronics industry entered a new era: that of the application specific IC (ASIC). This came about through a combination of improved IC design techniques, processing and software capability. The paper reviews the events that led to this change and discusses some of the opportunities it presents.