AUTOPILOT, or better known as AUTO for short, is the main antagonist of Pixar's 9th full-length animated feature film WALL-E.
He is the wheel of the space station known as Axiom and tries to prevent the Axiom and the hundreds, if not billions of humans living on it from returning to Earth. He later turns on his captain after his superior disobeys an outdated order to avoid going back to Earth.
He was voiced by using Apple's voice synthesis technology known as MacinTalk.
Unlike most other robots in the story, AUTO is initially depicted as a collected, emotionless and firm but fair caretaker of the Axiom, who genuinely does have humanity's best interests at heart but is eventually revealed to be a desperate and temperamental control freak due to AUTO having secret orders to keep humanity away from Earth. Being unable to defy his programming, his villainous breakdown involves trying desperately to stop EVE, WALL-E and the Captain from switching him off and plotting a course back to Earth in spite of evidence that Earth can support life. He was shown to be very intelligent, but it was covered by the fact that he was impatient. He only spoke what was needed to be said. However, while AUTO remains sympathetic, he proves that he is highly ruthless despite lacking basic morality. He displays this when he crushes WALL-E and the plant in the climax. This shows that his amoral nature prevents him from relating to anyone unless it fits his programming. However, given that he never meant any harm, saying he deserved to be shutted down is debatable.
The Axiom designed some point after the year 2100, was originally supposed to carry people into space for a 5-year cruise while hundreds of WALL-E robots would clean up the trash and pollution everywhere on the planet Earth.
However, Operation Cleanup, as it was dubbed, failed as all but one WALL-E unit (the film's protagonist) broke down, and the living conditions on Earth became impossible.
The Autopilot of the Axiom (or AUTO himself) receives a message to never return to Earth, 700 years before the movie starts. No one else aboard the Axiom hears this message. Therefore, every few years, an EVE probe is sent to Earth in search of plant life that would suggest that life on Earth was sustainable. However, AUTO tries his hardest to make sure they never go back for misguided yet well-intentioned reasons.
In the movie, WALL-E and EVE (the film's protagonist and deuteragonist respectively) find a plant specimen and EVE is taken back to the Axiom with WALL-E in tow. However, AUTO is aware of this immediately, so he sends another smaller probe/his henchman named GO-4 to take the plant and destroy it.
WALL-E and EVE manage to retrieve the plant from an escape pod that was about to self-destruct (with WALL-E still inside) and they deliver it to the Captain of the Axiom, who desperately wants to return to Earth. After the discovery of the plant from EVE, AUTO sends GO-4 to throw it into the trash chute.
WALL-E, who was climbing up the chute, manages to save the plant. GO-4 traps EVE, while AUTO electrocutes WALL-E, nearly destroying him. WALL-E falls back into the garbage chute as AUTO shuts EVE down and throws her into the garbage chute as well (in the video game, AUTO electrocutes EVE and throws her in the chute.). AUTO mutinies against the Captain, confining him to his room.
EVE manages to reboot and saves WALL-E, who is in critical condition (in the deleted scenes or video game, WALL-E saves EVE in critical condition). WALL-E, who has the plant, gives it to EVE, who realizes that if they can get it to the ship's Holo-detector, they can return to Earth and save WALL-E. EVE, holding a nearly destroyed WALL-E, points her blaster at a Steward. It takes an image of them successfully before being thrown in the closet. The Steward's photo is then broadcasted around the Axiom. The Captain, who sees this, realizes that there is still hope after all. AUTO sees it too and sends an angry pack of Stewards to stop EVE and WALL-E.
The Captain broadcasts a message to EVE and WALL-E and tells them where the Holo-detector is. AUTO cuts off the message and they are faced by several Stewards.. and they are "not" happy. With the help from certain defective robots that WALL-E saved earlier, they manage to completely annihilate the Stewards, (mostly done by HAN-S' help) who were cut up to pieces.
Meanwhile, the Captain manages to trick AUTO into coming down into his room. The Captain grabs onto AUTO, who pulls him up into the Command Deck while trying to get him off. In the fray, the Captain manages to activate the Holo-detector. EVE flies towards it, but AUTO, being a wheel, spins and throws the Captain off, tilting the entire Axiom to the side. AUTO then turns the Holo-detector off.
As it sinks back into the floor, WALL-E holds up the Holo-detector, while EVE holds back a huge metal plate that would have crushed several people to death because the Axiom was tilted. AUTO electrocutes the button that turns off the Holo-detector, causing it to slam down and crush WALL-E. The Captain, seeing this, gets to his feet (the first human to stand in about 700 years because technology has advanced that far) and battles AUTO.
The Captain manages to hoist himself up and switch AUTO's autopilot function into manual, "relieving" the rogue AI of its duty by shutting him off instantly. The Captain straightens out the Axiom, EVE manages to slip the plant in the Holo-detector before it completely crushes WALL-E and the Axiom jumps into hyperdrive and lands on Earth. EVE manages to fix WALL-E and the two live happily together. It is unknown what happened to AUTO afterwards, but it is possible that AUTO remains offline.
Sir, I insist you give me the plant.
~ AUTO to Captain B. McCrea, blocking the Captain's exit.
On the Axiom, you will survive.
~ AUTO to Captain B. McCrea, insisting that the Axiom sustains human life better than earth's current condition.
Must follow my directive.
~ AUTO to Captain B. McCrea, insisting that AUTO's orders must be followed.
(Captain McCrea: "AUTO, you are relieved of duty!") Nooooooooo...
~ AUTO to Captain B. McCrea as McCrea deactivates him to manual control.
AUTO's role in the movie is a matter of debate. Is he a villain, preventing humans from returning to Earth because he wants control, or is he merely doing everything he can to follow the orders he was given? This issue can be looked upon either way.
However due to AUTO's apparent lack of true sentience (he was always very mechanical) it is very possible he was following program - however, when a machine follows program, it can easily be seen as "evil" by human beings since a being that is run purely by logic does not have the capability to understand ethics (in fact, ethics are often the opposite of logic) - this means beings that follow program often appear ruthless, authoritarian and even evil: the idea of a being void of emotion is alien to a lot of humans and thus is seen as negative regardless of whether or not the character itself is "good" or "bad".
Another theory states that he is neither "logical" nor "ethical". However, ethics, which govern proper conduct, must always be in accordance with reason. It can be said that a rational being would interpret mankind's position in the Axiom as physically and intellectually decadent, while their return to Earth shows a realization of duty and a sense of active control over their own fate. Because such a solution is defended in this way, it can be argued as the ethically correct solution for the way humans behave.
Often, a cold and emotionless logician does not factor in some of the subjective values that must be taken into account when considering the conduct of people, but AUTO is not trying to think of the best course for humanity. Thus, he is illogical. He operates logically within the confines of his programming, but this is limited to a single mission: "stay the course," and "do not return to Earth." He only thinks of the most efficient way to keep these things true. Thus, he is not "evil" in the sense that he has malice or ill-intent for his own self-benefit. No, he doesn't think at all, he just does. He is an extension of an outdated order from centuries past. He is amoral, though his actions, not the being, are immoral because they would ultimately harm mankind.
AUTO is one of few Disney and Pixar villains to never actually be inherently evil - only acting on orders that he had received. Even his attempted murder of WALL-E was not out of malice.
The code AUTO gets to never return to Earth is A-113, a code used in many other Pixar films. It references the classroom at the California Institute of Arts where Andrew Stanton, the director of the film and other Pixar staff learned animation. This is the first (and only known) time A-113 has in the film's plot as well as the second time overall that a Pixar Easter egg has a major role in a Pixar film, with the first being the Pizza Planet truck used by the toys to chase down Al during Toy Story 2.
AUTO is the only robot who speaks more and with full un-programmed sentences in the film. The Stewards' sentences do not count, because it is programmed inside them.
Dan Castellaneta was hired to record AUTO's lines in the movie. In the final cut, Castellaneta's lines are cut and replaced by MacinTalk was selected.
AUTO also appears in the WALL-E short film BURN-E, but only as a very minor character.
AUTO is the only main Pixar antagonist who successfully kills the main protagonist but still ends up being defeated in the end.
Plus once back on Earth, EVE fixed WALL-E and brought him back to life.
AUTO's "voice actor" is so far the only incident that Pixar uses a non-human thing to voice a talking character.