In the latest Webmaster video, Matt Cutts answers the question about the future of backlinks.
“Google changed the search engine market in the '90s by evaluating a website's backlinks instead of just the content … Updates like Panda and Penguin show a shift in importance towards content. Will backlinks lose their importance?”
Cutts said, not in near future but eventually over the time Google will not emphasize the links for the rankings. Though he also said that the main reason is not link spam but a site’s backlinks may not be a very reliable factor in deciding the value of a page for a given search.
Matt Cutts further stated “Sometimes backlinks matter for that; it's helpful to find out what the reputation of a site or a page is. But for the most part, people care about the quality of the content on that particular page, the one that they landed on.”
However Google is expected to use backlinks for the next few years to “assess the basic reputation of pages and of sites.”