There are two basic problems in information theory that are very easy to explain. Two people, Alice and Bob, want to communicate over a digital channel over some long period of time, and they know the probability that certain messages will be sent ahead of time. For example, English language sentences are more likely than gibberish, and “Hi” is much more likely than “asphyxiation.” The problems are:
- Say communication is very expensive. Then the problem is to come up with an encoding scheme for the messages which minimizes the expected length of an encoded message and guarantees the ability to unambiguously decode a message. This is called the noiseless coding problem.
- Say communication is not expensive, but error prone. In particular, each bit of your message is erroneously flipped with some known probably , and all the errors are independent. Then the question is, how can one encode their messages to as to guarantee (with high probability) the ability to decode any sent message? This is called the noisy coding problem.