Examples include Rockwell Automation, which makes industrial systems; Irobot, a maker of automated tools such as vacuum cleaners and floor washers; Aerovironoment, which manufactures unmanned aircraft and other vehicles, and NCR, a great example of an old-line firm that morphed from mechanical cash registers to ATMs and automated check-in systems.
Another approach to finding investment opportunities stemming from the automation trend is to look for stocks with high sales to employees. A recent survey by Bloomberg calls attention to some companies with high sales-to-employee ratios. Among them: Apple, eBay, Microsoft, Amgen and Google.
Every industrial revolution has been accompanied by new technology that underpins the innovations, and that is also fertile ground for investors seeking growth. Microchips, computer storage, optical drives, LCDs, fiber optics and nanotechnology are just a few of the innovations that are driving the new economy.
Green energy is another trend that's here to stay. The list of these companies is long but worth investigating for investing ideas.
The good news is that the United States has enormous capacity to supply needed goods and services (with less labor than ever before, which means higher productivity). Jobs are being replaced, to be sure. However, every scenario that Ford envisions won't necessarily come to pass. Innovators in the global and U.S. economies will doubtless find new ways to make money.
This could mean that today's manufacturing jobs will be increasingly supplanted by more service jobs. For example, all of the new automation equipment will need servicing. One thing that seers of the high-tech future typically fail to envision is technology needs a lot of work to keep it running.
Whatever the future holds along these lines, investing in old-line firms that are labor intensive seems to be an increasingly bad bet. Such companies tend to be mature, which typically means low-growth potential and low investment returns. By focusing on high-revenue companies that harness automation, however, you'll be looking to the future. And after all, investing is all about the future.
Yet it's important to keep in mind that the future never unfolds as neatly as even the best seers predict -- even when they're basically right. The key is to keep abreast of economic developments to see new niches of investing opportunity developing as a result of the automation trend.
On a brighter economic note, this investment will spur general economic growth that, for all we now know, could ultimately produce new jobs in areas that now we can't even conceive.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Ted Schwartz, a certified financial planner, is president and chief investment officer of Capstone Investment Financial Group. He advises individual investors and endowments, and serves as the adviser to CIFG UMA accounts. Because Schwartz has a background in psychology and counseling, he brings insights into personal motivation when advising clients on how to achieve their wealth management goals. Schwartz holds a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. from Oregon State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.