Precision and ultra-precision surfaces are crucial for many products – quality optics, joint & cranial implants, turbine blades, and industrial moulds & dies, to name a few. Automation in this context is distinct from standard procedures in industry, where the identical sequence of operations can be repeated over and over again. Ultraprecision tolerances may be tens to hundreds of times tighter, and this is compounded by the hundreds of diverse substrate materials in use. Even with modern computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, skilled craftspeople are needed to plan a process-chain for a new material or geometry. Processes working at these tight tolerances, fall short of being fully-deterministic, so repeated process-metrology iterations are required. Surface-correction loops may be automated, but expert assessment should be performed at each step to check for unexpected anomalies. The ultimate goal of importing a part, processing autonomously, and delivering a finished part to an “optical” specification with no human intervention, is still a long way off. This paper describes the challenge and why it is important. It then melds together process-monitoring, psychology, artificial intelligence and robotics, to take a far-sighted view of how the ultimate goal can be realised.