In the following lecture notes chapter 3, page 12-13, they state the following

We begin by introducting some important notation:
- For a set $\mathcal{S},|\mathcal{S}|$ denotes its cardinality (number of elements contained on the set). For example, let $\mathcal{U}=\{1,2, \ldots, M\},$ then $|\mathcal{U}|=M$
- $ u^{n}=\left(u_{1}, \ldots, u_{n}\right)$ is an $n$ -tuple of $u$
- $ \mathcal{U}^{n}=\left\{u^{n} | u_{i} \in \mathcal{U} ; i=1, \ldots, n\right\} .$ It is easy to see that $\left|\mathcal{U}^{n}\right|=|\mathcal{U}|^{n}$
- $ U_{i}$ generated by a memoryless source $U^{'}$ implies $U_{1}, U_{2}, \ldots$ i.i.d. according to $U$ (or $P_{U}$ ). That is.

$$p\left(u^{n}\right)=\prod_{i=1}^{n} p\left(u_{i}\right)$$ Definition 12. The sequence $u^{n}$ is $\epsilon$ -typical for a memoryless source U for $\epsilon>0,$ if $$ \left|-\frac{1}{n} \log p\left(u^{n}\right)-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon $$ or equivalently, $$ 2^{-n(H(U)+\epsilon)} \leq p\left(u^{n}\right) \leq 2^{-n(H(U)-\epsilon)} $$ Let $A_{\epsilon}^{(n)}$ denote the set of all $\epsilon$ -typical sequences, called the typical set. So a length- $n$ typical sequence would assume a probability approximately equal to $2^{-n H(U)}$. Note that this applies to memoryless sources, which will be the focus on this course $^{1}$.
Theorem 13 (AEP). $\forall \epsilon>0, P\left(U^{n} \in A_{\epsilon}^{(n)}\right) \rightarrow 1$ as $n \rightarrow \infty$

Proof This is a direct application of the Law of Large Numbers (LLN). $$ \begin{aligned} P\left(U^{n} \in A_{\epsilon}^{(n)}\right) &=P\left(\left|-\frac{1}{n} \log p\left(U^{n}\right)-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon\right) \\ &=P\left(\left|-\frac{1}{n} \log \prod_{i=1}^{n} p\left(U_{i}\right)-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon\right) \\ &=P\left(\left|\frac{1}{n}\left[\sum_{i=1}^{n}-\log p\left(U_{i}\right)\right]-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon\right) \\ & \rightarrow 1 \text { as } n \rightarrow \infty \end{aligned} $$ where the last step is due to the Law of Large Numbers (LLN), in which $-\log p\left(U_{i}\right)$ 's are i.i.d. and hence their arithmetic average converges to their expectation $H(U)$

My question is related to the proof. My understanding is the following; $U^n$ is a sequence of random variables $U^n = (U_1, U_2, \ldots,U_n)$ drawn i.i.d from some distribution $p_U(u) = p(u)$ and $u^n$ is a realization of the sequence.

However in the proof they switch from using $p(u^n)$ to $p(U^n)$ and I am not sure what $p(U^n)$ represents? What would be wrong by doing it as follows?

$$ \begin{aligned} P\left(u^{n} \in A_{\epsilon}^{(n)}\right) &=P\left(\left|-\frac{1}{n} \log p\left(u^{n}\right)-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon\right) \\ &=P\left(\left|-\frac{1}{n} \log \prod_{i=1}^{n} p\left(u_{i}\right)-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon\right) \\ &=P\left(\left|\frac{1}{n}\left[\sum_{i=1}^{n}-\log p\left(u_{i}\right)\right]-H(U)\right| \leq \epsilon\right) \\ & \rightarrow 1 \text { as } n \rightarrow \infty \end{aligned} $$

  • $\begingroup$ These are two different things: $p(u^n)$ means the probability assigned to the fixed string $u^n$, whereas $p(U^n)$ means you first sample your i.i.d. random variable $U^n$, and then you look at what your probability mass function assigns to your outcome. So, $p(u^n)$ is a function of your distribution and the choice of $u^n$, whereas $p(U^n)$ is only a function of your distribution. $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2020 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, future questions like this are better suited to cs.stackexchange. $\endgroup$
    – usul
    Apr 12, 2020 at 17:51

1 Answer 1


Your understanding is right, you just need to internalize it a bit more. $U^n$ is a random variable with a well-defined distribution. If you just write $U^n$, it has been defined exactly what you mean. But $u^n$ hasn't been defined. If you just write $u^n$, we don't know what sequence you mean.

Definition 12 can be stated more precisely like this: "Let $U$ be a memoryless source and let $u^n$ be a sequence. We say $u^n$ is $\epsilon$-typical for $U$ if ..." In this context, $u^n$ is given to us, so it is well-defined. So you see $u^n$ has to be given context for it to be used in a way that makes sense mathematically.

If we look at what you wrote at the bottom, since $u^n$ hasn't been defined, it's ambiguous. I would assume reading it that you are trying to make a statement like: "For all sequences $u^n$, ..." or "Let any sequence $u^n$ be given, then ..."

In fact, a statement like $P(u^n \in A_{\epsilon}^n)$ doesn't make sense: the probability should be taken over something, but there are no random variables in that statement. On the other hand, $P(U^n \in A_{\epsilon}^n)$ makes perfect sense. The probability is taken over the random variable $U^n$.

There is one more weird thing going on in this proof that throws people off. Some of the probability statements have $p(U^n)$ inside of them. This is a random number, that depends on the value of the random variable $U^n$. For example, if I write $P(0.1 < p(U^n))$, this is the probability, over randomness in $U^n$, that $U^n$ takes some realization whose probability is greater than $0.1$.

For example, if I roll a die and $X$ is a random variable for the outcome, in $\{1,2,3,4,5,6\}$, then $P( p(X) = 1/6 ) = 1$.

I hope this helps!

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. Would it be correct to say that $P(U^n \in A_{\epsilon}^n)$ is the probability of any possible realization of $U^n$ being in the typical set? I am still a bit confused about what $p(U^n)$ actually means... I don't recall seeing small $p$ and random variables mixed before. $\endgroup$
    – sn3jd3r
    Apr 12, 2020 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ That means, for example, you draw from $U^n$, and end up with something like 00101011001, and if 00101011001 belongs to the typical set, you win. What's the probability that you win? $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2020 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @sn3jd3r, yes, that would be correct. And yes, this is an unusual idea (but there is nothing technically fishy going on). $U^n$ is a random variable. So it makes sense to talk about $P(0.1 < f(U^n))$ for some function $f$, right? This is the probability that if we draw $U^n$ and apply the function $f$, we get something bigger than $0.1$. Okay, now we're going to apply the function $p$, which takes in a string and outputs the probability mass of that string. $\endgroup$
    – usul
    Apr 12, 2020 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the follow up @usul - i think i get it. Accepted. $\endgroup$
    – sn3jd3r
    Apr 12, 2020 at 20:57

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