Gods Gift to Calculators: The Taylor Series
It is incredible how far calculators have come since my parents were in college, which was when the square root key came out. Calculators since then have evolved into machines that can take natural logarithms, sines, cosines, arcsines, and so on. The funny thing is that calculators have not gotten any "smarter" since then. In fact, calculators are still basically limited to the four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division! So what is it that allows calculators to evaluate logs, trigonometric functions, and exponents? This ability is due in large part to the Taylor series, which has allowed mathematicians (and calculators) to approximate functions,such as those given above, with polynomials. These polynomials, called Taylor Polynomials, are easy for a calculator manipulate because the calculator uses only the four basic arithmetic operators.
So how do mathematicians take a function and turn it into a polynomial function? Lets find out. First, lets assume that we have a function in the form y= f(x) that looks like the graph below.
We'll start out trying to approximate function values near x=0. To do this we start out using the lowest order polynomial, f0(x)=a0, that passes through the y-intercept of the graph (0,f(0)). So f(0)=ao.
Next, we see that the graph of f1(x)= a0 + a1x will also pass through x= 0, and will have the same slope as f(x) if we let a0=f1(0).
Now, if we want to get a better polynomial approximation for this function, which we do of course, we must make a few generalizations. First, we let the polynomial fn(x)= a0 + a1x + a2x2 + ... + anxn approximate f(x) near x=0, and let this functions first n derivatives match the the derivatives of f(x) at x=0. So if we want to make the derivatives of fn(x) equal to f(x) at x=0, we have to chose the coefficients a0 through an properly. How do we do this? We'll write down the polynomial and its...
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