The SEO industry is in an interesting place right now. Last year's Panda update to the Google algorithm used logic acquired from human quality testers as the backdrop to a new machine-learning algorithm that could assess the 'quality' of website content in a more sophisticated way.
Panda downgraded sites that delivered poor user experience and when it was updated earlier this year, an 'over-optimisation' penalty was deployed. The subsequent 'Penguin' update went further into penalising sites that used so-called 'black-hat' optimisation techniques (keyword-stuffing, duplicated content, 'cloaking', link farms/schemes and so on).
The mission of any search engine is to get the content that is most relevant and useful to your search to the top of the results. The better it can do that the better the user experience. The point about updates such as Panda and Penguin are that they have incorporated new ranking factors that have enabled an assessment of content quality based on a highly scalable application of very human contexts. This is leading some to suggest that SEO as we know it will be 'dead' within two years. The methods deployed to try and 'trick' the algorithm into ranking your content higher are becoming more and more irrelevant.
Perhaps. But there's a whole bunch of legitimate practices around creating well-structured, well-linked-to content with a great user experience that still matter. There can be little doubt that the future of search is going to incorporate increasingly sophisticated re-application of data not just within individual applications but derived from and deployed across many different services in order to provide better contexts to results. Google is already integrating data from Google+ and many other sources (location, device-specific, knowledge graph, Gmail and so on) to create new search experiences (like Search Plus Your World which incorporates content shared by people you are connected to on the web into the results) that are more personalised and more relevant.
So whilst SEO may not be dying, it is certainly changing and changing fast. As the link between so-called 'earned media' and search engine results gets stronger and as the data sources that form results become more numerous and more complex, the requirement is increasingly for SEO to be integrated into everything that the brand does. That means not only the quality of your content, but how you produce it and what you do with it. The skills of a good SEO person have always been about increasing visibility of content and getting it in front of people who are prospective buyers/customers/consumers. And that skill will surely be in more demand than ever.