IEEE Spectrum has compiled a deeply geeky and interesting article about "25 microchips that shook the world." Here's a bit about one of my faves, the Texas Instruments TMC0281 Speech Synthesizer from 1978. From IEEE Spectrum:
If it weren't for the TMC0281, E.T. would've never been able to "phone home." That's because the TMC0281, the first single-chip speech synthesizer, was the heart (or should we say the mouth?) of Texas Instruments' Speak & Spell learning toy. In the Steven Spielberg movie, the flat-headed alien uses it to build his interplanetary communicator. (For the record, E.T. also uses a coat hanger, a coffee can, and a circular saw.)
The TMC0281 conveyed voice using a technique called linear predictive coding; the sound came out as a combination of buzzing, hissing, and popping. It was a surprising solution for something deemed "impossible to do in an integrated circuit," says Gene A. Frantz, one of the four engineers who designed the toy and is still at TI. Variants of the chip were used in Atari arcade games and Chrysler's K-cars. In 2001, TI sold its speech-synthesis chip line to Sensory, which discontinued it in late 2007. But if you ever need to place a long, very-long-distance phone call, you can find Speak & Spell units in excellent condition on eBay for about US $50.