Matt Cutts recently gave a "State of the Index" talk on his blog in video format (think "State of the Union" for Google). It's quite long, at over 23 minutes, so make sure you have the time to absorb it all. Here's the video embedded right here, for the oh so lazy.
I found the video on Search Engine Journal, so kudos to them.
What I enjoy about the video is the fact that Matt Cutts makes it clear that Google is out to help webmasters as long as said webmasters produce "white hat" content. "Black Hat" content or Black Hat SEO are methods of SEO that are, basically, fraudulent and attempts to "fool" the search engines.
I think that when you see SEO from Google's point of view, you soon find that SEO is more about creating great content that users want to find. Everywhere you look on the net, researching SEO or what have you, you'll find "content content content" or "content is king."
Google's job is to provide its users with what they are looking for. Therefore, the job of an SEO firm or SEO specialist is to make it clear what their website is about, so that Google puts it in front of the eyes of the right people. Now, because we generally want to pick who sees our website (we want to show up for the right search engine keywords) this means that we don't produce content blindly or in a vacuum. We use keywords in our copy, in our headers, in our meta tags, etc. We aim to get links not just from every random site on the Internet but from relevant websites. And we link out to relevant websites.
Do it right, and everyone wins.