Bits: The Computer Science of Digital Information

Harry R. Lewis, PhD, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University.

This course focuses on information as quantity, resource, and property. We study the application of quantitative methods to understanding how information technologies inform issues of public policy, regulation, and law. How are music, images, and telephone conversations represented digitally, and how are they moved reliably from place to place through wires, glass fibers, and the air? Who owns information, who owns software, what forms of regulation and law restrict the communication and use of information, and does it matter? How can personal privacy be protected at the same time that society benefits from communicated or shared information?

Free lecture videos

The recorded lectures are from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences course Quantitative Reasoning 48, which was offered as an online course at the Extension School.

The Quicktime and MP3 formats are available for download, or you can play the Flash version directly. These lectures are organized by 12 themes, which can be viewed in any order. Note that some topics are repeated in different themes, as relevant.

Blog posts

Harry Lewis provides commentary and analysis on his blog, Blown to Bits. Blog posts are linked below with the videos.

What is information? (i.e., bits reductionism, “it’s all just bits”)

The explosion (exponential growth, you can save/move/analyze)

The Internet and the Web




Secrecy and encryption

Owning bits—copyright

Censorship and free speech

The role of government—laws and regulations

Radio and television


Enroll in Harvard Extension School courses

If you enjoyed this free class, the Harvard Extension School offers a wide variety of courses in numerous fields. Search for classes and enroll for credit during the fall and spring registration periods.