A Bitcoin Von Neumann machine (the self-replicating variety). It buys CPU power to generate more money to buy more CPU power. Cool idea.
Unfortunately, I think such a thing would be doomed, except on the fringes. You might get a short, profitable run with such a system, but once it becomes noticeably profitable to do so, why wouldn't the service providers do it themselves? If you're able to make money after paying them, they can get what they were paid plus what you made by doing it themselves. And since the APIs must exist for the bots to exist, doing so should be relatively trivial for the providers.
StorJ sounds like more fun. A similar bot which makes money so it can pay humans to do its bidding (help it reproduce), which means it doesn't require widespread APIs that would contribute to its own downfall.
Genetic algorithms excel at a particular set of problems. Those problems are pretty general in scope, and are often tricky to solve by humans that don't have the requisite intuition or time to explore the problem space more thoroughly.
You can't solve chess with a genetic algorithm, at least not to my knowledge, but you could sure as heck make a challenging checkers player with one.
If the tasks the agent is performing are well defined, it could employ humans to modify its code (in well defined places). Agent could for example hire freelance programmers to develop improved plugins for breaking new types of captchas. Through affiliate marketing schemes agent could also pay for humans to do the selling.
These kind of agents would have at least some competitive advantage over humans in providing services which are considered illegal (for example spamming). Humans probably need to price in the risk of getting caught and ending up in jail while an agent does not have the problem.
I'm no expert in the going rates for storage space, but it seems kinda far-fetched that customers would be willing to pony up enough cash to sustain a business like this. After all, we have guys like dropbox who set the bar pretty high, allowing 90% of their customers to use the service for free. I'm assuming part of how dropbox is able to maintain sustainable cost is by treating storage and bandwith as an economy of scale, which is the exact opposite of the piecemeal model StorJ is proposing.
I'm curious if anyone has actually started working on an implementation of this, and if not, what set of features (or service infrastructure) would be necessary for a sort of minimum viable product type thing (its supposed to be able to harness human minions so I'd imagine that's fairly central to its hopes for growth and development)?
Yes, one of the biggest problems with a trusted cloud is that (with currently-proposed technology) the cloud provider would have to provide source code to their hypervisor, but many providers consider that a proprietary advantage.