George Scalise, president of the influential Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), claims the chip industry is now the number one wealth creator in the US, up from seventeenth position a decade ago.
Speaking at the second meeting of the World Semiconductor Council in California on Friday, he claimed that position was comparable in other countries that manufactured semiconductors.
He predicted that, in 10 years time, there will be a billion transistors for every human on the planet. At the same time, the SIA called for international cooperation on chip technologies (see separate story).
Although the fall in semiconductor prices was viewed with dismay in some quarters of the industry, Scalise said that economists had found that the impact of price cuts on US consumers "far exceeded the benefits from declining transportation costs during the railroad era in the last century".
He added that, while dollar growth in the chip sector last year was small, the industry showed a 90 per cent increase in the number of transistors shipped, about two billion new transistors a second.
He said: "Last year, our industries produced almost 10 million transistors for every man, woman and child on earth. Per capita consumption of transistors has been increasing by about 55 per cent a year - a rate which causes an order of magnitude increase every five years. At this rate, by 2008 we will be producing one billion transistors for every man, woman and child on earth."
Despite this, penetration of PCs in the US market only amounts to 40 per cent of the population. "This number will increase when the other 60 per cent of the population become convinced that PCs, set-top boxes, or cellphones with Web surfing capabilities are as indispensable as their colour television sets," he said.
Internet and ecommerce would also fuel that growth, believes Scalise. He said that an IBM survey of 22,000 businesses in 12 countries found that almost 90 per cent of them used email, while 70 per cent had Web sites.
"Today, only five per cent of the surveyed businesses do ecommerce complete with payments, but this number will double in six months," he predicted. This type of growth would justify the billion transistors per person in 10 years' time.
He said that the SIA was announcing "limited" international participation in its technology roadmap plans. He called for barriers to trade to be removed. "Specifically, the members of the WSC must redouble their efforts to get China, Russia and Latin America to join the Information Technology Agreement," he said.
He also called for the removal of tax and encryption barriers to the growth of ecommerce, echoing comments by IBM's chairman Lou Gerstner three weeks ago.
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