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Of Life Cycles Real And Imaginary : The Unexpectedly Long Old Age Of Optical Lithography

R. Henderson
Published 1995 · Economics

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Abstract The history of many industries can be characterized as a series of technological ‘life cycles’. This has led some to argue that the limits to a technology are a predictable function of its underlying physics and the structure of the dominant design. This paper uses the unexpectedly long old age of optical photolithographic alignment technology to suggest that this belief is probably incorrect. Unexpected changes in user needs and in the capabilities of component and complementary technologies permitted optical photolithography to dramatically exceed its ‘natural’ limits. However belief in the existence of a predictable life cycle had important implications for the evolution of the technology since it provided a framework within which industry participants embedded tacitly held, largely unexamined knowledge about the ways in which user needs and component and complementary technologies were likely to evolve. These results lend support to those that have argued that it is important to explore both the social context of a technology and the dynamics of the technology itself if one is to fully understand patterns of technological evolution.
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