Will AI ever become spiritual? A Hospital Chaplaincy perspective

With humanity’s ever-increasing reliance on, and closer integration with Artificial Intelligence (AI), the questions of AI’s agency as both potential spiritual-being and spiritual care-giver are pressing. This paper reviews these from an acute Hospital Chaplaincy perspective, utilising that sector’s broad definitions of spirituality, and case studies. The structure is provided by two broad questions: ‘Does AI need chaplaincy?’ and ‘Could AI provide chaplaincy?’ Focusing on Boden’s (2018) definition of AI as being humans and computers in symbiosis, this article argues that Chaplaincy may be deeply necessary for the human components of AI, especially with the lax ethical landscape around AI development and usage. Further, recognising that AI already provides quasi-Chaplaincy through apps, this article raises concerns around whether it can provide the same level of care as a human Chaplain, especially around questions of embodiment, free-will, veracity, professionalism, charity, and humanity. Although this paper has a specific focus on Hospital Chaplaincy and its arguments sit within those parameters (which the author recognises is more person-centred and limited than broader parish-based pastoral care), there are important implications for all in public ministry, whatever their setting.

How to cite:

Brown, E. (2023). Will AI ever become spiritual? A Hospital Chaplaincy perspective. Practical Theology, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/1756073X.2023.2242940