(from the comments section of Phillip the Informed by registered user Captain Corinthia)
I know what you’re saying but those were not ghosts or at least not the way you think of them. I know this is all basically conventional wisdom among us hackers but let’s take this one step at a time for you lay folks.
Before The End, the Lattice was built to upload anyone who had been mortally wounded both physically and mentally. Sure, there were some debates at the time about “ghosts in the machine” and whether or not you really were you once you got reformed but people generally preferred not dying to long term pondering of philosophical questions. If you’re really curious there’s still a bunch of books from that time period hanging around online. I recommend Larkin‘s “Letters to my Future Incarnation.”
Nowadays the main concern is that the Lattice is broken. Most folks get two maybe three rounds of violent death and even that requires the help of someone pretty good at computers.
What about after that third dive? What about those folks who get uploaded and no one comes for them? This is the real source of what most folks call Echoes.
When people get uploaded to the Lattice they all become ones and zeroes. Reforming the physical body helps jog memories but ultimately we are all just a set of memories programming a meat robot as far as I can tell. The Lattice was never perfect and now that there is widespread damage it takes bits and pieces where it thinks it needs to self heal.
Maybe the Lattice knew that you’d respond to the sight of Ellen. Maybe that’s why the Lattice sent you an image of her to help you find shelter. Maybe it was whatever remains of Ellen in the Lattice that reached out to you. If you knew more about computers, maybe you would have poked around to see if there was any damage there. I know I’ve had a few close encounters where Echoes led me places because the Lattice needed repairs there.
For folks who know the meaning of the word algorithm, an Echo is all that you experienced. I know you found it moving and I truly hope in some what whatever is left of Ellen knows that you found safety. The power of your experience though does not excuse putting forward theories of Judgement Day and is only harmful.