Spectrum of Functional Behavior

How functional must a computer be to claim human-level intelligence? Alternatively, how functional must a computer be to claim human-level artificial intelligence (AI)?

The goal here is to provide a firm basis for discussing the level of function of AI systems, including whether a given digital system has the level of function worthy of being described as intelligence.

The thesis of this informal paper is fourfold:

  1. Behavior of both human and digital systems, as well as animals, can be classified based on level of function.
  2. Functional behavior spans a broad spectrum of levels.
  3. Functional behavior must reach the level of being highly functional or high function in order to be considered comparable to human-level behavior or intelligence.
  4. Integration and coordination of functions is requisite for high function and true, human-level intelligence.

First, some definitions of terms.


Action refers to anything that is accomplished or done in the real world, regardless of whether a living creature is involved.

Beyond the behavior of living creatures and digital systems, a falling branch or falling leaves, running water, blowing wind, falling rain, crashing waves, and falling rocks are all actions as well.


Behavior refers to action of some living or digital system. By contrast, a falling branch or falling leaves, running water, blowing wind, falling rain, crashing waves, and falling rocks are not behavior despite being actions.

Behavior would include gestures, speech, language, and anything else that serves to enable communication.

Thought would be considered behavior only to the degree that it manifests itself in the form of action or communication.

Behavior will typically be action caused by or the result of some conscious decision, but that is not a requirement for all forms of behavior.

Inaction or silence can also be considered behavior in the sense that if one might otherwise have expected some action or reaction and inaction or silence is unexpected and therefore especially meaningful.

Unintentional or inadvertent actions by living creatures or digital systems would technically also be considered behavior, such as breathing, perspiration, blinking, shedding hair, an involuntary muscle twitch, knee jerk response, flinching, coughing, vibration, or nervous laughter


Function refers to behavior that has some apparent purpose or utility.

We can speak of an action or behavior as being for a certain purpose, although we may not necessarily know with any certainty what the purpose really is.

As a counterexample, an involuntary muscle twitch or vibration or nervous laughter could be considered behavior, but not function since it has no obvious and useful purpose. It may have some de minimis internal function for the creature or system, but nothing especially noteworthy.

Autonomous vs. intentional behavior

Animal, human, and digital systems are all capable of a fair degree of autonomous behavior that does not require conscious intent or external direction.

Willful, conscious, and intentional behavior is a special quality of human and advanced digital systems, although most digital systems are too primitive to be considered conscious or capable of intent.

Whether animals exhibit truly intentional behavior is a matter of debate and definition.

Autonomy can be viewed from two distinct perspectives: from within the system or from outside the system. The latter is concerned with whether human direction and intervention are involved. The former relates to the ability of the human or digital system to contemplate, decide, and plan courses of action without external direction.


Intuition refers to the ability of a person or digital system to leap to a conclusion without significant and direct conscious or high level executive reasoning. People use intuition quite commonly, while it is not yet in the repertoire of even the more advanced digital systems.


Defining intelligence is a difficult and problematic task. I’ve posted some thoughts on Medium:

For the purposes of this informal paper, I am using the cognitive abilities of an average person as the threshold level for intelligence.

Integrating functions

One of the special qualities of intelligence and intelligent behavior is the capacity to integrate and coordinate functions.

Levels of function, spectrum of functional behavior

Now on to the spectrum of levels of function.

There is no scientific significance at this stage for the various informal levels of function described herein, but these informal levels do serve to help comprehend the nature of levels of function.

The proposed but informal level characterizations are:

  1. Non-functional. No apparent function. Noise. Twitches and vibrations.
  2. Barely functional. The minimum level of function that we can discern. No significant utility. Not normally considered AI. Automation of common trivial tasks.
  3. Merely, minimally, or marginally functional, tertiary function. Seems to have some minimal, marginal value. Marginally considered AI. Automation of non-trivial tasks. Not normally considered intelligence per se.
  4. Minor or secondary function. Has some significance, but not in any major way. Common behavior for animals. Common target for AI. Automation of modestly to moderately complex tasks. This would also include involuntary and at least rudimentary autonomous actions. Not normally considered intelligence per se.
  5. Major, significant, or primary function. Fairly notable function. Top of the line for animals. Common ideal for AI at the present time. Automation of complex tasks. Typically associated with consciousness, deliberation, decision, and intent. Autonomy is the norm. Bordering on what could be considered intelligence, or at least a serious portion of what could be considered intelligence.
  6. Highly functional, high function. Highly notable function. Common for humans. Intuition comes into play. Sophisticated enough to be considered human-level intelligence. Characterized by integration of numerous primary functions.
  7. Very high function. Exceptional human function, such as standout creativity, imagination, invention, and difficult problem solving and planning. Exceptional intuition.
  8. Genius-level function. Extraordinary human, genius-level function, or extraordinary AI function.
  9. Super-human function. Hypothetical AI that exceeds human-level function.
  10. Extreme AI. Virtuous spiral of learning how to learn and using AI to create new AI systems ever-more capable of learning how to learn and how to teach new AI systems better ways to learn and teach how to learn.
  11. Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity. The ultimate in Extreme AI, combining digital software and biological systems.
  12. God or god-like function. The ultimate in function. Obviously not a realistic research goal.

High function behavior

As already noted, highly functional behavior (high function behavior) is indicative of human-level behavior or human intelligence, at least in a minimalist sense, for average humans.

In my opinion, this is the starting point or minimal level for any AI that wants to claim parity with humans even in a minimalist sense.

Very high function behavior

Exceptional human behavior and intelligence would be at the very high function level. This isn’t quite the genius level, but still quite notable or well above average.

AI function behavior

I don’t think anybody would insist that AI must reach the genius or even very high function level to be called intelligence, but personally I don’t feel that anything below the high function level of behavior would be sufficient to be considered true intelligence.

That said, I am probably in the minority — I suspect that quite a few otherwise intelligent technology professionals would chafe at having the bar set as high as I have set it and would insist that the marginal, minor, and major function levels should also be fair game to claim AI function levels of behavior.


My apologies for not providing specific, detailed examples for the various levels of the spectrum. I felt they would be too much of a distraction. And people would wonder why their favorite examples weren’t included and considered definitive. I’ll leave examples as an exercise for the reader. Also, examples will come into play as this proposed spectrum is used in future papers.

Beyond high function behavior

Contemplation of behavior beyond high function is beyond the scope of this informal paper.

The hope is that we now have some sound basis for discussion of the level of function of AI systems.

Written by

Freelance Consultant

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