The topic of the nature of "artificial intelligence (AI)" (such as whether it can "understand" something) brings up a question on the other side as well. Do simple living things that operate mostly on instinct (i.e. mostly response to their environment in pre-programmed ways) really "understand" anything?
For example, a sponge on a coral reef is alive, and is typically classified as a simple animal, but we don't know how much it "understands" about the world around them. And do instinctual reactions (emotional or otherwise) constitute "thinking?" Even in humans, we usually don't consider pre-programmed instinctual reactions to be "thinking," so what does that mean for creatures that only respond based on instincts?
On the other hand, humans and advanced animals have more powerful brains, and the more advanced the brain is, the more capacity there is for thought outside of instinctual reactions. Humans are so advanced that we can override our basic instincts and do the opposite if we choose to or learn to or are conditioned to. And our brains are advanced enough to be able to "understand" what that means, mostly because we declared what "understanding" means in the first place.
This relates to artificial neural networks because we basically are defining a set of instincts for "AI" to follow, and they follow that programming to a variety of ends similar to how an animal might follow their pre-preprogrammed instincts. The environment may shape how they behave and they are capable of learning, but they are still responding based on pre-programmed instructions that weren't created by themselves (i.e. were present when they came into existence).
Learning constitutes retaining information that can be used to make "better" decisions in the future, both in animals and "AI," even when that collected information is still processed using pre-programmed instincts or instructions.
Basically, if the above is true, that would mean "learning" and "pre-programming / instincts" can still be present even when "thinking" and "understanding" are absent, both in living creatures and artificial intelligence.
So even if we don't build an "AI" that is smart enough to "understand" and "think," if we program it with a set of pre-defined instincts, have we created a simple creature?
I am not saying that we are or have, but it does raise some interesting questions, such as, "what is life?" and "what is understanding?"