We may define imaginary exponents the same way that all sufficiently smooth real-valued functions of a real variable are generalized to the complex case--using Taylor series. A Taylor series expansion is just a polynomial (possibly of infinitely high order), and polynomials involve only addition, multiplication, and division. Since these elementary operations are also defined for complex numbers, any smooth function of a real variable may be generalized to a function of a complex variable by simply substituting the complex variable for the real variable in the Taylor series expansion of .
Let , where is any positive real number and is real. The Taylor series expansion about (``Maclaurin series''), generalized to the complex case is then
This is well defined, provided the series converges for every finite (see Problem 8). We have , so the first term is no problem. But what is ? In other words, what is the derivative of at ? Once we find the successive derivatives of at , we will have the definition of for any complex .
Derivatives of f(x)=a^x
A First Look at Taylor Series