Some years ago I tried to learn to play contract bridge with some friends and I never really understood the philosophy (for want of a better word) of bidding. It seemed as if we just had to learn a set of rules and apply them - e.g. if you have N points and a balanced hand, open with [whatever], if you're responding to your partner's bid of [whatever] do [something depending on your hand], etc. It was some effort to learn even the basic set of these rules, and it appeared (at the very basic level we were playing) as if the whole bidding process could have been done perfectly by an algorithm running on a computer (or your phone :))
As I understand it, in bridge competitions one is obliged to disclose which conventions you and your partner use, which also suggests to me that the intention is that your bids are an open and deterministic description of your hand.
So, with apologies for my naivety, my question is really where the skill lies in bidding well? Or to what extent is the interest largely later on in the game, when applying what was learned through the bidding in playing the hand?