So, why is the wheel getting the axe? From everything I've read and heard, it's because SD designed a game the AI can't play well. This isn't totally a criticism in my mind. Paul designed this game totally with the player in mind. He was thinking about what would be best for the player without running it through the "can the AI handle this?" filter that can dictate a lot of decisions in a symmetrical 4x. This issue was compounded by the development process, where alpha/beta testers were encouraged not to worry about how effectively the AI could handle various mechanics because it wasn't really implemented yet.
So the AI is bad at the game which prevents it from being as fun as it could be. Humans can, and often do, manipulate the planetary wheel to make their planets run a peak efficiency. The AI doesn't understand how to do this and so inevitably falls way behind in pretty much every way. So the solution? Well we haven't seen it yet, but presumably it will be to hamstring the players so they can't be as efficient while at the same time creating tools that the AI can use more effectively than it can the wheel. Now while I hate the idea of taking control away from the player so the AI can catch up, I would be able to understand the decision except. . .
It won't fix the problem.
It might make a dent, but that dent will be small. The wheel is powerful, but it is only one small piece of the puzzle of interconnected systems the AI can't seem to master. Adjacency bonuses and economy star-bases are probably much bigger contributors to why the players run empires much better than the AI. The wheel actually seems like it should be the least of the AI's worries. I don't program AI, but is seems like it should be totally reasonable to have the AI say: "if this is a research world set the wheel to 50/50 manufacturing/research unless there is nothing to build, then switch to 100% research, and never have more than 60 manufacturing." this would put it not that far behind players using the wheel. The real problem seems to be that it doesn't effectively designate a purpose for a given planet and build toward that purpose. The systems of this game all encourage the player to say: "this planet will do x and every decision I make as it applies to this planet will make it better at doing x." Until the AI "thinks" like that, the problem will persist.
P.S. I know that SD has said there are other reasons to get rid of the wheel: less micro and "not in the spirit of the game." But I personally find both of those pretty flimsy. You haven't really had to to check in on your worlds every turn since they got manufacturing overflow working correctly, and I find it hard to buy that production of an entire planet is too small an issue for the attentions of a galactic emperor.